Delta One, Part 2

Written by  on August 14, 2002 

Delta One, Part 2 Cover

The Enterprise arrives in the Delta Quadrant to find old friends… and new enemies.

Written by Michael B

Stardate 76412.1

Release 14 Aug 2002

Captain’s Log: Stardate 76412.1

After 33 days in slipstream, we have now resumed standard warp velocities and are now en route to the Talaxian system. Stellar Cartography informed me that we crossed the Nekrit Expanse sometime in the early morning hours, putting us on course for arrival near Talax at 0700 hours tomorrow. So far the ship has performed flawlessly, our systems exceeding the expectations of the designers and engineers. I couldn’t possibly be more pleased with this vessel. The crew, on the other hand, is still an unknown factor. Individually and by their records alone, they’re all a fine group of individuals. Despite my earlier misgivings about Commander Kalan, he has proven to be every bit as capable a first officer in the day-to-day running of the ship as I could expect. As per his recommendation, we are now monitoring all subspace frequencies to learn as much as we can about the current state of affairs in this sector before making contact with the Talaxian government. So far, all subspace traffic in the area is quiet. Yet while we’ve all been settling into our routine, learning to get accustomed to each other, we have yet to fully test ourselves in a crisis…

"Harry," a familiar voice called out, interrupting his log recording. "It is time for breakfast. Your log can wait until after you spend time with your family."

Kim sighed, holding back a chuckle at he irony. Here he was, the commanding officer of one of the most powerful starships the Federation had ever built, yet he couldn’t even command his own quarters. He disengaged the log HPADD floating at his personal workstation and got up to join his family for breakfast.

Annika was already sitting at the dining room table, her eyes focused on the HPADD text before her, while Katrina was wolfing down her oatmeal and juice.

"Sorry to keep you waiting, beautiful," Harry greeted his wife as he leaned over and kissed her forehead, before sitting down before his omelet and coffee.

She raised an eyebrow and gave him a crooked smile. "It was your insistence that we should share our breakfasts together, Harry," she said. "You were concerned that I would allow work to consume my personal time, yet clearly that is what has happened to you."

"Hey, I’m supposed to be in charge of this ship," he retorted. "I don’t choose the hours I work. They choose me. You know that."

"Guys," Katrina groaned. "Can we not fight about this? I don’t need any negativity this early, okay?"

"We’re not fighting, princess," said Harry.

"We are having a conversation," added Annika.

"Yeah, whatever," said the girl with a wave of her hand. "Say, is it alright if I hang out with the gang this evening? We were gonna grab some gach at the Galleria and maybe catch the holocine."

"And just which ‘gang’ are you referring to?" asked Annika.

"You know, the gang," she answered with a shrug. "Pana, Tiff, maybe Bree if her folks don’t give her a hard time about it."

"And what of this cinema you wish to see?"

Katrina rolled her eyes and sighed. Why did her mother always have to butt into her business with her and try to control her life, she groused silently. "It’s supposed to be a modern interpretation of that old movie Uncle Tom likes so much. You know, the one about the psycho killer and the teenagers."

"If you’re talking about one of your uncle’s 20th Century films, you’ll have to be more specific than that," Harry chuckled. "This film isn’t filled with a lot of gratuitous gore and sex, is it?"

"Dad," Katrina pouted, "I told you it was a modern interpretation. What kind of garth would want to see garbage like that on a flat screen, never mind in three dimensions?"

"OK, fine," said Harry. "As long as you’re back by curfew time."

"But, Dad, we wanted to hang out over at Tiff’s afterwards. You know, listen to some music and all."

"And what of your studies?" Annika asked harshly. "If you are to maintain your grade point level from Telford Station, you will need to show more diligence than you have been since taking up with these…friends of yours. Surely you can socialize with them after classes."

"I can’t," said the girl with a raised tempo. "I’ve got…tutoring. After classes."

"Tutoring?" asked Harry with alarm. "What’s this about tutoring? You’ve always gotten good grades. Since when do you need a tutor?"

"I set it up for myself with one of the holodeck programs," she answered. "It’s all extracurricular stuff. Language studies."

"Romulan language studies?" Harry queried.

"Well, what’s wrong with that?" asked Katrina. "You said it was OK for me to pursue this if I was interested."

"Not if it is impeding on the time spent on your core curriculum," said Annika with disapproval. "When do you plan to find time for your homework between these hobbies of yours and wasting time with your friends?"

"I’ll do my homework during my study session, okay?" Katrina snapped. "Come on, mom. I just want to have some fun with my friends. Why do you have to make such an interstellar incident about it?"

"Do not take that tone with me, Katrina Kim," Annika warned her. "It is my role to see you develop responsible study habits. How else are you to achieve your full potential?"

"Okay, you two," Harry held up his hand to silence the two combatants. "Time for me to play the captain here." Lately it seemed that his wife and daughter were too often at odds. All part of the fun of adolescence, he thought wryly. "Katrina, you can meet your friends for dinner and the movie, but no hanging out afterwards. It’s a school night and you have a curfew. As for your homework, I trust you to get it done before you leave tonight and do it right. That’s the verdict from Captain Dad."

"Yes, sir," she replied bashfully, and then leaned over and kissed her father on the cheek. "Thanks, Daddy. I’ve gotta warp." She then turned to face her mother, looking more uncertain. After a second of consideration, she gave Annika a similar, more dutiful peck. "See ya." And like a whirlwind, she gathered up her carrybag and darted out the door.

Annika looked at her husband crossly. "I do not like the way she speaks to me. She is becoming more difficult and less focused on her schoolwork every day."

"In other words, she’s a teenager," he answered with a smile. "Better get used to it. You don’t want to have the kind of blow-ups that B’Elanna had with Miral, do you?"

"What I want is for Katrina to be more mindful of the future than she is. She has such extraordinary potential, Harry. I only want her to make the most of her talents."

"Then have faith in her, honey," Harry said warmly. "She’s a good kid. You don’t have to put so much pressure on her to succeed. She’ll do what needs to be done."

Before Annika could answer, Harry’s combadge chirped loudly, focusing his attention elsewhere. "Kim here."

"Sir," came the voice of Commander Kalan over the speaker. "Stellar Cartography has confirmed that we have entered the sphere of Talaxian merchant shipping, based on our existing intelligence data. We have also intercepted a transmission."

"Oh? What kind of transmission, Commander?"

"Difficult to say, Captain. The signal is very erratic. Mr. Krell believes the message is being jammed at the source. Given the repeating pattern of the signal, I believe it to be a distress call."

"Hmmm," Kim mused. "Set course for the source of the signal, maximum warp. Put the ship on Yellow Alert until we know more."

"Aye, sir. There…sir, we’ve just cleaned up more of the signal."

"Anything critical?"

"Indeed," said Kalan. "The ship in distress… it is Talaxian."

Lieutenant Commander Vorik sat alone at his table in the Officer’s Mess with his fruit cup and toast. Breakfast was exactly the way the Vulcan engineer preferred it, quiet and predictable. Although Vorik prided himself on having a genuine interest in the activities of his non-Vulcan colleagues, one area where he simply refused to compromise on was the solitude in which he chose to take his meals. He simply could not understand how other races—humans in particular—could turn a meal into an event for socializing when it was properly a time for peaceful contemplation.

Vorik had made it a point to know the precise routines of his fellow crewmates, so that he knew which officers would be available at which times. For all of their self-professed unpredictability, humans in particular were far more creatures of habit than they realized. They had their established routines and would comfortably stick to them in order to free their minds for other pursuits. This, of course, suited Vorik quite nicely. Knowing which officers would show up at any particular breakfast shift made it easier for him to plan his own mealtimes, and thus avoid those more gregarious individuals who might feel inclined to disturb him when he would simply rather eat his meals in peace.

Then, as stood up to retrieve an additional slice of toast, he noticed one incongruent element in his careful expectations, an unexpected officer taking her meal at a place where she was completely unanticipated.

"Commander Vorik," said Dr. Tila Saldeed crisply as she stood ahead of him in line at the buffet.

"Doctor," he replied with expediency. "I was not aware that you took breakfast in the Officer’s Mess."

"Ordinarily, I don’t, Commander," said Saldeed. "But the Galleria seems unusually congested with children this morning, and since removing them was not an option, I felt compelled to find a more quiet location for breakfast."

"Indeed," concurred Vorik. "You also prefer your meals in solitude, then?"

"I prefer my life in solitude, Mr. Vorik," she answered, "Ah, the universe would be such a wonderful place if it weren’t for all the people in it."

"A peculiar attitude for one trained in the healing arts." He took his tray back to his table, realizing that Saldeed was joining him and thus violating his own cardinal rule regarding meals.

"I’m a researcher by training, Commander, not a general practitioner," she said bitterly. "But of course there are so few Romulan physicians with any experience dealing with…aliens. And I must admit the idea of getting away from Romulus, studying so many new species…it appealed to me."

"Nevertheless, Doctor, I sense that there are certain people in particular you would rather avoid. Something regarding children?"

Saldeed let out an exasperated sigh. "If you must know, Commander, it’s that Kim girl."

"The captain’s daughter?" he said with puzzlement.

"No, the captain’s cat," she retorted sarcastically. "And this is the famous Vulcan intellect at work?"

Vorik looked at Saldeed with a mild tilt of his head, betraying no reaction to the doctor’s facetiousness. "And what precisely is your issue with Ms. Kim? I have known her since her childhood and have found her to be bright and articulate."

"My problem, Mr. Vorik, is that the girl is…odd. Every so often I’m in the corridors, and I see her there staring at me. She shows up in Sickbay trying to make small talk with me. Asking me questions, the sort of things any Romulan ought to know."

"Have you addressed Captain Kim on this matter?"

"And what am I supposed to say? ‘Excuse me, Captain, but your daughter is a pest?’" She then shook her head and stared down at her tray, and took a bite of her meal. Vorik tried not to show his unease at the steak and eggs she seemed to eat with great relish.

"It wouldn’t bother me so much, if the child weren’t so different. Seeing a Romulan child acting so…human." Saldeed seemed to react viscerally as she continued. "It’s disturbing. She talks with the casualness of someone who’s never known duty or responsibility. There’s no mnhei’sahe in her voice, no sense of d’era. But then I see enough of that in too many young Rihannsu these days."

"Perhaps, Doctor, were Ms. Kim to be fully aware of the alternatives available to her, she might be less inclined to pursue your own culture as an exemplar."

"And which alternative would you suggest, Mr. Vorik?" she asked forcefully. "Vulcan, perhaps?"

Vorik nodded in a thoughtful manner. "I will admit that a more disciplined lifestyle would lead to greater chances of accomplishment without the distractions of emotion that occur so frequently among the young."

"How typical," Saldeed reacted in disgust. "That’s the same sort of condescension that my people have to put up with from the Vulcan missionaries on Romulus."

"If you are referring to the cultural exchange efforts, Doctor, then the term ‘missionary’ would hardly be accurate."

"Isn’t it?" she said accusingly. "Aren’t you people just trying to sell us a way of life? That sounds like mission work to me."

"The Vulcan High Command only wishes to see that the Romulan people receive a better understanding of their ancestral culture, in order to combat centuries of ignorance and misinformation. There must be greater understanding of the benefits of logic and discipline if Unification is ever to take place."

"Understanding," she said. "Isn’t that just a code word for Romulans learning to act like Vulcans? Unification on your terms?"

"Given your people’s history, Doctor, surely you can see that there are benefits to be gained from the control of one’s more…base passions?"

"What I can see, Commander," said Saldeed, "is that the Rihannsu people cherish all aspects of life to the fullest for their intensity. We revel in new experiences. A pity that isn’t more obvious to your own race of intellectuals."

"Consider the comparison, Doctor," Vorik replied. "Vulcan has known continuous peace and tranquility for the past two millennia. Romulus, by contrast, immediately experienced brutal infighting among the settlers, enslavement of the indigenous Remans, then periodic centuries of tyranny punctuated by civil war, the most recent of which ending less than fifteen years ago with the death of millions. Given the two alternatives, the more logical lifestyle would be self-evident to anyone other than a masochist."

"You wish for us a life without passion, without mnhei’sahe?"

"The ‘Ruling Passion’ as you say, is a thing best tamed rather than flaunted, Doctor," said Vorik.

Saldeed was about to offer a reply of her own, but a message over the intercom cut her short. "Attention all senior officers," came the voice of Captain Kim, "We have intercepted a distress call from a vessel under attack. We are now proceeding to investigate. Please report to your stations while we remain on Yellow Alert."

"If you will excuse me, Doctor," said Vorik. "I must return to my duties and see that the engines perform flawlessly should we encounter any hostile forces."

"Of course you will, Commander." Saldeed looked at him slyly. He nodded his head in reply respectfully.

"You’re Vulcan," she added with bite. "You can do anything."

Vorik simply gave her an arched eyebrow and left in silence.

Brax held onto the console for dear life as his small freighter bucked around him. A display screen to the left of him exploded in a shower of sparks, shards of crystal narrowly missing his head. He and Willix had used every trick they knew to dodge the pursuing Kazon raider, and had managed to stay ahead of it for three days straight. But clearly the attacker had grown weary of a solo pursuit and had called in three other raiders to help hunt them down. Now they were outnumbered and had nowhere to hide.

"And you said this was going to be a milk run," said Willix, as he struggled to close the nearest access panel.

"So if we get out of this I’ll owe you a drink," he answered, his eyes never leaving the viewscreen. "How much more can the engines take?"

"We’re losing warp power," said Willix. "Shields are down to five percent and our transmitter is too weak to get past their jammers."

"How about our passenger? Is she holding up?"

"She knows we’re done for, if that’s what you mean."

"Come on, buddy," said the pilot with forced cheerfulness. "We’ve been in worse spots than this, haven’t we?"

The Talaxian engineer looked forlorn, his whiskers drooping in resignation. "Any worse than this and we’d be dead already, Brax. There’s no way we’re getting out of this one."

Brax studied the sensor scopes showing the four raiders all converging on their positions. "Those ships were in firing range over an hour ago. They could have blasted us anytime, but instead they just take potshots. I think they’re trying to take us alive."

"You mean, surrender?" asked Willix.

"No!" came a stern, yet fluid voice over the intercom. "Captain, you must not let this ship be captured by the Kazon. If my information should fall into their hands, the consequences for both our worlds would be terrible!"

Brax cursed himself for neglecting to switch it off after calling Willix in the engine accessway. "Ms. Tessar," he tried to speak with great patience, "we could be destroyed at any second…"

"Captain Brax," said the tense voice over the intercom. "I’m sure you must have heard tales of what the Kazon like to do to their prisoners."

"She’s got you there," said Willix. "Not that it’s much of a choice, but I’d rather be blown out of space than let those savages get their hands on me."

"As would I, Captain," said the disembodied voice of Tessar.

Brax took in a deep breath as he looked about his battered ship and saw the raiders moving into range to launch their grapplers on them, if they so chose. "Can we…is there any way we could…blow the ship?"

Willix nodded grimly. "A deliberate overload of our fusion reactors should do the trick. You just, you know, give the word."

Brax looked up from the scope and over to his longtime friend. "I’m…sorry, Willix. I’m sorry I got you into this."

"It’s okay, Brax," he said with a weary smile. "You said yourself it was for Talax, right?"

The moment was interrupted by another blip on the screen. Brax leaned over to take a look. "Willix, we’ve got another ship coming out of warp!"

"Another Kazon?" sputtered Willix. "Isn’t four of them enough?"

"I…I don’t think it’s Kazon," said Brax, staring in disbelief at the numbers rolling off the sensor scope.

"Then what is it?" asked the engineer.

"It’s…" he tried to answer, but couldn’t come up with one. "It’s big!"

Harry Kim gripped firmly onto his command chair on the bridge as the Enterprise dropped out of warp. His first officer, Commander Kalan, sat to one side, while the ship’s counselor, Lieutenant Commander Finn Bartok, sat opposite him. The main viewscreen showed a small vessel being overtaken by four larger craft that he recalled all too well from many years ago.

"The freighter definitely has Talaxian markings," reported Lieutenant Naomi Wildman from the Ops station. "She’s taken heavy damage, she’s down to impulse, and her shields are collapsing."

"I’ve matched the attacking vessels to our database, sir," said Lieutenant Cyrus Krell. "They’re definitely…"

"Kazon," said Kim. "I know who they are, Lieutenant. For eighteen months straight, those thugs made our lives on Voyager very unpleasant."

"Shall I set course for a little payback, sir?" prompted Ensign Miral Paris from her station at the helm.

"Maintain your station, Ensign," Kalan ordered harshly.

"Aye, sir," Miral grumbled.

Harry had to admit that the idea of dishing out a little revenge against the Kazon sounded tempting. After all, this was no Intrepid-class, but a ship designed to fight a Borg Cube. But still, there were rules of engagement that had to be followed.

"Mr. Krell," said Harry as he stood up, his eyes focused on the viewscreen. "Hail them."

As soon as the frequency was open, Harry spoke out. "Kazon vessels, this is Captain Harry Kim of the USS Enterprise. We are responding to a distress call from the ship that you are now engaging. We ask that you stand down from your attack and…"

"We’re getting a response, sir," said Krell, as the view on the monitor changed to that of the commander of the lead Kazon raider. His face tried to convey that of control, but that control was clearly faltering.

"Enterprise, this is an internal matter for the Kazon Union of Sects. The Talaxian vessel is…is…manned by terrorists…who have committed grave crimes against the Kazon people. It is not your concern."

Harry glanced back over his shoulder towards his head counselor. Bartok was staring intently at the Kazon commander, his mind in motion behind the normally placid face. Harry quickly gestured to Krell to cut the video feed to the Kazon, as he turned to his counselor and friend for advice. During their years of service on the Houston together, Finn had proven to him that one could discern an opponent’s mind without having to be a telepath.

"He’s lying, isn’t he?" asked Harry.

"He’s not very good at it," said Bartok. "He’s also scared to death."

"Of us?" said Kalan. "That does not surprise me. The Enterprise has many times the strength of all their vessels put together."

"I know," said Bartok. "Which means there’s either something on that ship the Kazon desperately want, or they’re terrified of what might happen if they don’t get it."

"Sir!" Naomi called out in the midst of their discussion. "The Talaxian ship is trying to hail us past the jamming signals. Audio only."

A hiss of static echoed throughout the bridge as a faint voice tried to speak up over the noise. "Enterprise…freighter Nexine…not true…unarmed…diplomatic mission…Talaxian government…" The message then cut out completely as the words blended into the background of the interstellar din.

"That’s all we could get, sir," said Naomi. "The Kazon are still jamming them."

"Whatever they did to boost the signal," said Krell from Tactical, "it killed whatever power they had left. Their shields are gone and they’ve lost impulse completely." The security officer then peered closer at his HCARS screen. "Sir, two of the Kazon ships are moving within grappling range. They’re trying for a lock onto the ship."

"Re-establish communications," Harry ordered. "Kazon vessel, this is Enterprise. We ask again that you stand down and allow us to arbitrate this dispute. We…"

"Sir," said Krell. "The other two ships are moving into an attack formation. Against us."

"They wouldn’t do anything stupid like fire on us, would they?" asked Bartok.

"They’re Kazon," replied Harry. "More bluster than common sense. But that doesn’t make them any less dangerous."

"They’re firing!" shouted Krell.

"Red Alert," said Harry calmly. He was not worried, knowing that the ship’s multi-spatial shielding and nano-active hull would easily absorb the crude weaponry of the Kazon. But still, regulations did require a certain posture be maintained…

"Hit on Deck 5," said Naomi. "Shields deflected the blast completely. No damage."

"Commander," said Harry to his XO, a cruel smirk showing on his face, "I believe that the rules of engagement have been adhered to, and that an appropriate response should be delivered." Turning to Tactical, he continued. "Mr. Krell, prepare to return fire."

"Locking phasers…"

"No," said Harry. "Arm a single quantum torpedo. Maximum yield."

"Sir?" said a puzzled Cyrus Krell. "Isn’t that overkill for ships that are so outclassed by us?"

"Target amid their formation," said Harry, his smirk growing wider. "Don’t aim at any of the ships themselves. To paraphrase Admiral Janeway, I want to send a message."

"Aye sir," Krell responded, sharing his captain’s brief moment of satisfaction. "Torpedo is armed and away."

The quantum torpedo shot out from Enterprise and detonated at full yield between the four vessels. Although none of the Kazon ships were close enough to sustain any significant damage from the explosion, all of them would be able to monitor the torpedo’s yield, and would now know just what kind of firepower the Enterprise could casually dispatch against them.

"All four ships are breaking off their attacks," announced Krell, as he watched four red blips on his HCARS display scatter and run. "They’re going into warp."

"Well done, everyone," said Harry. "Cancel Red Alert. Lieutenant Wildman, life signs on the Talaxian ship?"

"I’m reading three, sir," said Naomi.

"Lock a tractor beam onto the ship and tow her in. Hail them and prepare to beam them directly to Sickbay."

"Aye, sir. Locking transporters on now."

"Good. Commander, you have the bridge. Mr. Bartok, you’re with me. I think we just made our first contact with the Talaxians."

As soon as the turbolift door slid behind them, Kalan stood up walked up to the helm, glaring down at Miral while she remained seated. "Maintain course to the Talaxian system, Ensign. And restrain yourself from any more colorful commentary."

Miral twisted her face in annoyance. Oh, I’ve got plenty of colorful commentary, you pompous ass, she thought quietly.

By the time Harry and Finn arrived at Sickbay, the occupants of the stricken freighter were already aboard and being treated. Kim could see two Talaxians sitting up on their respective biobeds, one being looked at by Dr. Saldeed, the other by one of her nurses. The nurse looked human, as Harry struggled to recall her name. Baker, that was it. It was then that he noticed the mobile emitter on the young woman’s arm, and then remembered that Baker was an Emancipated Hologram. Probably another one of the new generation of photonics inspired by Jonathan’s example, he thought with amusement.

"Doctor," he said with greetings. "I trust our patients are doing well?"

"A few minor burns, abrasions, and a broken wrist," reported Saldeed as she looked up from her patient. "Fortunately our databases are fairly complete on Talaxian physiology."

"Captain Kim?" said the patient. "I’m Brax, captain of the freighter Nexine, or at least what’s left of her. And this," he continued as he gestured to the slender fellow in the next bed, "is my partner and ship’s engineer, Willix."

"Yeah," said Willix. "Captain Kim, we don’t know how to thank you. We thought we were done for out there."

"It’s my pleasure, Mr. Willix," said Harry. "It’s fortunate that Enterprise was heading in the same direction as you. Our…"

"Captain," said a third voice from across the room. "Am I to understand that this vessel is also going to Talax?"

Harry and Bartok turned their attention to that of a slender young woman with dark hair, and a face that…well, Harry couldn’t quite describe it. Her features were harsh and angular, definitely not beautiful by human standards. But her own race—which was clearly not Talaxian—might have a very different perspective. She was definitely graceful, with an aristocratic air about her, like someone who had just fallen from royalty and was now dependent on the generosity of kindly peasants. Then it came to him. The woman was a Haakonian.

"Captain Kim," said Brax, "may I present my passenger Su’gahn Tessar."

"Of the Haakonian Order," she added.

Now that definitely didn’t make sense, thought Harry. From their last bit of info, twenty-seven years ago, the Haakonians and the Talaxians had been bitter enemies, the former having defeated the latter in a brutal war that ended with a weapon of mass destruction used against the civilian population of the Talaxian moon Rinax. He remembered how despondent his friend Neelix had been for years after the tragic event. Things must have changed immensely over the intervening years for a Haakonian to be sharing a ride with two Talaxians.

"Ms. Tessar," Harry greeted the woman. "I take it we’re both heading in the same direction?"

"Captain," Tessar pleaded, "how fast can this vessel travel? It is absolutely vital that I reach Talax as soon as possible to meet with their government. Our pursuit by the Kazon has already cost us valuable time."

"Ms. Tessar," said Harry calmly, still confused by these circumstances. "Are you traveling in some official capacity?"

"I’m a diplomatic courier for the Haakonian Foreign Bureau," said Tessar. "I’m expected for an important meeting with the Talaxian People’s Assembly bearing important documents from my government."

"If I may ask, Ms. Tessar," said Kim, "what sort of documents are we talking about?"

Tessar looked uneasy, unsure of whether or not to be forthcoming. "Captain Kim, I…I haven’t been given any authority by my government to release details of my manifest to any third parties."

"Oh give it a rest, Su’gahn!" said Brax in frustration. Turning to Harry, he went on. "It’s the terms and conditions for a proposed treaty of peace between Talax and Haakonia."

"Captain Brax!" Tessar shouted.

"These people saved our lives, Su’gahn," said Brax. "If they had any designs on us, they’d have left us to the Kazon."

Accepting the inevitable, the Haakonian sighed and turned to Harry. "Captain, if you’re able to take me to Talax, I can promise you the proper compensation from my government…"

"That won’t be necessary, Ms. Tessar," said Harry. "We just happen to be going to Talax ourselves. In fact, we were hoping to be able to meet with the Talaxian government on an important matter ourselves."

"Well," laughed Willix, "if want an invitation to meet with the Assembly, you should talk to Brax. His mother sits on the Board of Advisors."

"Yes," said Brax graciously, "I’d be happy to…" Then a look of epiphany spread across the young Talaxian’s face, as if something became clear. "Of course! I should have known from the markings on your ship! I know who you are! You’re the Voyager People!"

Bartok let out a hearty guffaw. "The Voyager People?"

"Yes, you’re the travelers from the far side of the galaxy. The Federates! I’ve read stories about you."

"Well, the term is Federation," said Harry with a laugh. "And yes, that’s us. I’m pleased to hear that people out here still remember us."

"I can’t believe it," said Willix with amazement. "Rescued by the Voyager People. I always thought they were just another spacer’s myth." He then looked over at Harry with some concern. "Wait a minute. This isn’t the same ship, is it? Don’t tell me you people are still lost?"

Harry tried to keep his amusement in check. He had to maintain some dignity as captain of this vessel after all. "No, Mr. Willix. Voyager found her way home a long time ago. Enterprise is an entirely new ship. When you’ve all been cleared by Doctor Saldeed, I’ll be happy to give you all a tour. In the meantime, is there anything else we can provide for you to make you more comfortable?"

"Yes, Captain," said Willix slyly as he glanced over at Brax. "I’d like the biggest, most expensive drink you people have on this ship."

At that, Harry struggled to hold in a laugh. "Well, we don’t serve liquor here in Sickbay. You’ll have to go to the ship’s lounge or one of the establishments on the Galleria. And we don’t use money, either."

"No money?" said Willix incredulously before smirking at his friend. "Brax, you always were a lucky bastard."

Professor Nott stood imperiously at the center of the atrium-shaped classroom, the stout Bolian’s arms folded over his barrel chest, eyeing the sea of vacant pupils that fate had forced into his classroom. "Now, consider the argument made by Donaldson regarding the events of mid-20th Century Earth. As even the most ignorant among us is aware, Earth’s first landing on its moon was accomplished in the year 1969. But assuming you all managed to read the text last night, you know that after successfully landing six missions on the lunar surface, humans failed to follow up and did not return to Luna for another four decades. Mr. Hamid, why was that?"

"They thought Luna was…well, all flushed and wasted, sir."

"Ah, the universal translator is indeed a wonderful invention," groaned Nott. "A pity that its limited abilities preclude it from deciphering the incomprehensible slang you young people are so fond of using. Speak plainly, Mr. Hamid."

"They…um…thought the place was boring, sir."

"Boring, Mr. Hamid?" said Nott. "I think the answer goes far deeper than your own dissatisfaction with a weekend getaway to Tranquility City. You must look at the historical factors that prompted humanity to their moon in the first place. Mr. Lowe?"

"Uh, sir?"

"Who was the president of the United States of America in 1961?"

"I…uh…Lincoln?" Those who knew the real answer let out a chorus of chuckles.

Nott let out an exasperated sigh of despair. "Lincoln. Well, Mr. Lowe, you are improving. You’re only one century off this time. And it saddens me to think that ambassadors from cultures across the Delta Quadrant might board this ship, take one look at you, and mistake you as an example of the best and brightest of your species. Can anyone else answer the question? Ms. Kim?"

Katrina Kim had tried to keep her head down. It wasn’t that she didn’t know the answer. Of course, she did. She simply didn’t want to appear too eager to answer. Especially not after Jason Lowe had been made to look foolish because of it. It wouldn’t have mattered, if only Jason weren’t so…so prime. She glanced over to her friend Pana, hoping for some advice. But the Andorian girl had scrunched her face up into a caricature of the imperious professor, trying to elicit a laugh out of her. Mocking the teacher in class was treading dangerously, but Pana Anu Thrass was most fearless person she knew.

"Ms. Kim," said an impatient Professor Nott. "We’re waiting for an answer."

"Um, it was Kennedy, sir," Katrina answered with great reluctance. "President John Fitzgerald Kennedy."

"Correct, Ms. Kim. Now, in regards to the Donaldson thesis, what factors brought about President Kennedy’s decision to land a crewed mission on the lunar surface by the decade’s end?"

Katrina wished that Professor Nott had just left it at one question and moved on. But no, he had to insist that she show off what a know-it-all she was in front of the entire class. In front of her friends. And worst of all, in front of Jason. She wondered if Nott and her mother were conspiring together in how to make her life miserable.

Thankfully, she never got the chance to embarrass herself. The class bell rang, indicating the period was now over. As the students got up to leave, the teacher desperately tried to shout them down and remind them about their assignments for the night. Katrina barely listened, as she was surveying the crowd for Jason. She saw him getting up from his seat, a few of his buddies from the Velocity team coming over to jibe him about the harsh treatment he received in class. She could swear that she saw one or two of them looking up at her and laughing. God, Jason probably thought she was a total herbie.

"Well, are you gonna do it or not?" said her friend Tiffany Limos, a wicked smile on her face.

"What are you talking about?"

"She means Jason," said Pana, her hands resting on her hips. "She wants to know if you’re going to stop gazing at him from the sidelines and just throw yourself at him the way she does with Curtis."

"Hey, shut up!" Tiffany shot back.

"I…I don’t gaze at him," Katrina said weakly. "I mean…he’s just a guy. It’s no big deal."

"Sure, it’s no big deal," Pana laughed, doing a mocking little pirouette.

"W-well, maybe you should just talk to him," said Breeshall, the fourth member of their social quartet.

"Oh, what do you know about anything?" Tiffany said to her derisively. "You don’t just go up to a guy and tell him you like him!"

Katrina sighed. Already Tiffany had managed to link up with Curtis Obadae, captain of junior Velocity team and golden boy of their generation aboard ship. Bree, of course, was too petrified and insecure to even talk to a guy, let alone go on a date with one. Pana, on the other hand, had no fear of boys at all. She just simply had no use for them, especially juvenile human boys who were unable to hide their ogling of her ample chest. As a proper Andorian girl, Pana’s clan had already arranged a marriage for her when she turned eighteen, something she was perfectly fine with, even if it was with a wife and two husbands.

And I thought human dating rituals were strange, thought Katrina. She wondered if Romulans had it any easier.

"Bree," said Katrina nervously, "you’re not detecting any…I mean, can you sense if Jason…?"

"Kat, are you asking me to…well…read his mind to see if he likes you?" Bree asked, her face showing astonishment. "I…I can’t do that! I mean, first off all, I’m not that good at reading aliens, I mean, non-Betazeds yet. And second, that’s considered, like, really rude and unethical, you know?"

"Oh, don’t be such a crawler!" Tiffany complained. "No one here would shift you out if you peeked into his brain."

"It’s still wrong," said Bree. "If you like Jason, you should just tell him."

"Tell him?!" Katrina sputtered. "First, I never said I liked him. And second…you just don’t tell someone…I mean, you just don’t."

"It’s not her fault, Kat," laughed Tiff. "She can’t help coming from a culture that’s compulsively honest. Take it from your human friend, girl. If you want to land yourself a human boy, then lie. Lie like a dog and tell them what they want to hear."

"Lie like a dog?" Pana chuckled. "I thought that dogs were supposed to be humanity’s best friends."

"Funny," said Katrina sourly. "Look, I’ll meet up with you later."

"Jason?" Pana snickered, her antennae twitching lewdly.

"No!" she replied angrily. "I just…I’ve got a tutoring session on the holodeck, that’s all. I’ll meet up with you guys at the Galleria."

"The holodeck?" asked Pana with concern, while Tiff and Bree went on ahead down the corridor. "Are you still exploring that Romulan stuff?"

"Yes," she answered. "Is there anything wrong with that?"

"No, it’s just…I don’t know why its so important to you. I mean, you seem pretty together to me. Won’t learning about being a Romulan just make you feel, I don’t know, out of place or something?"

"Listen, Pana," said Katrina. "You were born Andorian, and you were raised like one. Me, I was raised to be human, even though I’m not. I…I just want to know more about who I’m supposed to be, that’s all."

"Well, I don’t see why you want to go and change yourself," said Pana, showing her more serious side for a change. "I mean, I think you’re slee’mah just the way you are."

Katrina’s face flushed at the complement. "I…thanks."

"Even if you are a real herbie when it comes to boys," said Pana, getting in the last laugh.

Harry stood at the head of the briefing room, looking out on his senior staff. In addition, he had requested that Grand Proxy Quag and Annika sit in on the meeting as well, to bring in their viewpoints as well.

"And that’s where things stand," said Kim. "According to Ms. Tessar, the Talaxian and Haakonian governments have been slowly negotiating this peace treaty over the past two years. The Haakonian Order has offered a list of concessions, including reparations for the attack on Rinax, in exchange for Talaxian recognition of Haakonian rights to certain strategic systems. She’s confident that the final form is something that both sides are willing to agree to."

"But why send a courier to Talax by freighter?" asked Naomi. "If they’re negotiation a treaty, why not full ambassadors, or even a summit between heads of state?"

"Apparently, there are forces within both governments that have been trying to scuttle the peace process," said Harry. "The respective leaders both wanted to have a final document to take directly to the people, in hopes of winning popular support for a settlement. In the meantime, they’re keeping this low key. The question for us is how this affects our mission and our plans to negotiate with the Talaxians to establish Delta One in their space. Is this treaty with the Haakonians a plus or a minus for us?"

"It could create complications," said Kalan sourly. "Any preferred arrangements with the Talaxians could be viewed with deep suspicion by the Haakonians."

"Not unless we offer to cut the Haakonians in for a guaranteed share of the trade rights that come through Delta One," Quag proffered.

"It sounds like you’re suggesting that we take a more active role in the negotiating process," said Bartok.

"We should propose just that," said Quag. "I say the Enterprise should offer to serve as a neutral arbiter for the negotiations. Believe me, Captain, the Talaxian government will make the very same suggestion to take the pressure off of them."

Vorik glanced over coolly at the Ferengi speaker. "Such an active involvement could be seen as a violation of the Prime Directive, Mr. Quag."

"You could argue it the other way," said Quag. "The Talaxians and Haakonians have already agreed to the process. You could just say that we’re stepping in to make the deal sweeter."

"Could you be more specific, Mr. Quag?" asked Harry, curious but wary at the same time.

"By offering both parties access to trade and technology goods," said Quag gleefully, "we can make it worth their while to sign on to any agreement. It’ll be an easier sale to their people that way. Captain, it’s good business any way you look at it. Delta One is secured, Enterprise develops a reputation as a peacemaker, and we establish good relations with two races for the price of one. Now that’s a bargain in any culture."

"It would seem we have encountered a fortuitous confluence of events," said Annika in agreement. "Talax has apparently recovered since Voyager’s visit twenty-six years ago. And we have rescued the son of an Assembly member who can guarantee an audience for us."

"Yeah," said Krell solemnly. "I’m just wondering when the other shoe is going to drop."

"That’s a rather pessimistic attitude, Lieutenant," said Bartok.

"Counselor," Saldeed interjected, "it’s been my experience that what the Elements offer with one hand, they take back with the other."

"I’m not concerning myself with luck," said Harry. "What worries me is this…Kazon Union of Sects. From what I remembered, the Kazon were never much unified about anything."

"Indeed," Vorik added. "If you will recall, Captain, the Kazon collectively controlled a wide volume of space. If this territory is now under the rule of a single government, or even a single individual, then they would indeed be a force to be reckoned with."

"Fear is often a stronger motivator for peace than idealism," said Kalan.

"Yes," said Harry. "Tessar didn’t come right out and say it, but I suspect that the appearance of this new ‘Union’ was a factor in motivating both parties to the negotiating table."

"All the more reason why we should encourage this treaty," said Quag.

"Then we’re agreed," said Harry. "We make our offer to the Talaxians as originally planned, but we make a place for the Haakonians. This is very a very promising start to our mission, people, and I’m hoping it’s a sign of what’s to come. Dismissed."

As the officers filed out of the room, Harry remained behind, holding up the solid parchment that Tessar had reluctantly given to him for examination. Whether he liked it or not, he was part of the process now.

"You still have doubts," he heard his wife’s voice. Harry looked up to see Annika had remained in the briefing room, waiting for him by the door.

"I don’t know," he sighed. "I want to believe that this is the right thing to do. But I’m worried about the consequences of getting in this deep with other people’s problems."

"Forming new alliances is part of our mission in the Delta Quadrant," she said as she walked over to the table and sat to his left. She reached over to him and held his hand.

"Right," he said solemnly. "The Fifth Borg Incursion and all that. I just can’t help but remember what happened when the Admiral tried to bring all the Kazon sects and the Trabe to the negotiating table, and how that blew up in her face."

"This is not the same. Kathryn attempted to create something that none of the parties would have ordinarily agreed to. Peace between Talax and Haakonia is something that their governments want to see happen."

"I’m not so sure about that," he said, eyeing the parchment nervously. "If Tessar and Brax are right, then someone definitely doesn’t want peace to happen."

The Predator-class starships of the Kazon Union were considered among the largest and most feared vessels in all the surrounding sectors. But as fearsome as they were, they were outclassed by one far larger and deadlier. The Ravager was the only ship of her kind, at least for now. Perhaps one day, when the Union was recognized as the preeminent power of the territories, the resources would be at hand to build more. But for now, one Ravager was enough. And for a dreadnought of such glorious power, it was only fitting that she became the personal command ship of Nagan, the Grand Maje himself.

The four Raider commanders had boarded the grand flagship, only to be met by a squad of the kazon’ai, the dreaded personal guards of the Grand Maje. As the elite embodiment of the new unity of the Kazon people, the kazon’ai renounced all allegiances to their original sects, proclaiming their loyalty to the Union itself, as well as its sovereign. They did not wear the traditional garb of the sects, but were instead cloaked in a uniform of black and brown leathers, the left side of their faces branded with the blood-red tattoo of the Kotay. No one knew the origin of this mysterious symbol or what it meant, only that it had come to be known as a mark of great power and destruction, making the kazon’ai a terrifying sight in any crowd.

The commanders were nervously led to the central audience chamber at the heart of the ship. Once led inside, the doors slammed shut behind them. Inside, a formation of six feral-looking kazon’ai guards stood like silent statues at the head of the dimly lit room. More frightening still were the adornments of the chamber, severed heads and limbs of the various majes and underlings who had dared to defy the inevitable logic of the Union and Nagan’s unique vision on how it should be run. Behind the guards, lounging back lazily in his plush seat of power was a hooded figure draped in silken robes. The hood obscured the facial features of the man, save for the fierce recessed eyes glaring red from within the darkness of the shadows.

The commanders immediately kneeled before the potentate, knowing that only the proper deference could possibly save their lives now. Once prostrate, they awaited for the command to rise and face their Grand Maje. But the command was not given. They were to remain low and humble.

"I commanded you to bring me the treaty and the transport," said Nagan, his voice sounding unexpectedly youthful and melodic. The Grand Maje was a young man, younger than each of the commanders. But he had risen to the top of the Kazon hierarchy through a combination of fortune, tenacity, and sheer brutality. "Yet you brought me neither. Tell me of your failure."

"Forgive us, Grand Maje," said the lead commander. "The Talaxian ship was within our grasp, but another vessel interceded."

"Another vessel?" said Nagan, his tone remaining steady and unperturbed. "A single ship could not be bested by four battle-hardened Kazon captains?"

"The vessel outclassed us, Grand Maje," said the commander. "Her defenses and weaponry were at least equal to that of your own flagship. I…"

And at that, the hooded figure shot up straight in his seat, his crimson eyes glaring down at the prostrate commander. "Equal?! You call these strangers the equal to your Grand Maje?!" The commander’s eyes bulged as he realized the mistake he had made, remembering how capricious and cruel the Grand Maje could be. Nagan then snapped his fingers and two of the guards lunged towards the commander, pulling him up by his neck. One of them pulled out a long, wicked-looking knife and thrust the blade up to the man’s left eye, the point hovering just a few millimeters over his eyeball.

"Where did this grand vessel go after they forced you to scamper away?" hissed Nagan.

"I…It…set course for Talax," the commander said while gasping for breath, the delicately balanced knife blade obscuring his vision.

"The this ship will be at Talax by now, you cowardly wretch!" Nagan fumed. "They could be forming alliances with them even as we speak, undermining our grand vision for the sector. Who are these people, Commander?"

"I…I don’t know, Grand Maje," the commander gasped. "They were powerful."

Then Nagan stood up violently. "I am power." And with that command came a quick motion downward, and the kazon’ai with the knife did his duty.

Tila Saldeed was grateful for the opportunity to return to her quiet studies in her office. Her Talaxian patients were long since discharged, and her staff had gone about their regular duties. It would allow her some time to review her findings on Talaxian and Haakonian comparative physiology. It might even be worth writing a paper on, she thought, her first here in the Delta Quadrant.

"Doctor?" said a deep, booming voice from outside her office.

"Lieutenant Krell?" she acknowledged the security officer calmly. "What brings you to Sickbay?"

"Actually, it’s not me," he said. "I’m here to escort some of the crew who need to speak with you." Krell then stepped aside, allowing a dozen Jem’Hadar to march into the office.

Well, Saldeed thought, this was turning out to be an interesting day. "First Jor’Marak," she said, acknowledging the leader. "Is there something I can do for you and your men?"

Jor’Marak nodded his head slightly in a show of respect. "We have come for the White, Doctor Saldeed. Our initial supplies run low and we require replenishment. We were told that you are the one we are to see."

"Ah, yes," she said with realization. "It has been over a month already. They told me that this would be one of my responsibilities. Let’s see now…" She then got up from her chair and walked over to a panel, leaning over to look into a red lens recessed into the wall. "Access secure replicator," she called to the computer, "Identify Saldeed, Tila, Doctor. Alpha Epsilon D’hara N’eh."

"Voice command verified," replied the computer. "Retinal scan verified."

A lot of trouble, she thought, but necessary given the circumstances. As Chief Medical Officer, it was her responsibility to hand out the supplies of Ketracel White to the Jem’Hadar. For safety purposes, all replicators aboard ship were designed with a security lockout to prevent the replication of Ketracel White. No one wanted to take the chance of allowing the Jem’Hadar unhindered access to the White, and thus removing the one sure area of control over their violent natures. The only replicators aboard ship that could produce the substance needed for the Jem’Hadar to live were located right here in Sickbay and a backup device in the captain’s ready room.

The wall panel slid open and a boxy-looking replicator extended forward. Saldeed looked back over at Jor’Marak and his men. "About 200 ampoules will do, correct?"

"Correct," said the squad leader. "My first Twelve will receive our doses, then we will distribute the rest to the lesser ranks."

"Okay…" she said, once the replication process was completed, and two hundred ampoules were arranged in a series of portable trays for delivery. "Here you go." She then handed the trays over to Jor’Marak, but he looked at her oddly, reluctant to take them.

"What’s wrong? Isn’t this what you want?" she asked.

The Jem’Hadar Second, Adan’Olam, looked at the doctor with deep disapproval. "You are supposed to say the words."

"What words?" she said in annoyance. "What are you talking about? I’m very busy here."

"The Words," said Jor’Marak. "The litany for when we take the White."

"It is tradition," said Terem’Bakal, the Jem’Hadar Third, with fearsome sincerity. "Just as the Vorta do."

Saldeed was puzzled for a moment, until her readings on the Jem’Hadar finally came back to her. "Wait a minute. You can’t be serious, can you?"

"We are always serious, Doctor," said Jor’Marak.

To make things worse, there was Cyrus Krell, looking on with his arms folded and having a gentle smirk at the scene before him. The all-powerful Jem’Hadar demanding a story with their meal, like children. Giant, drug-addicted, homicidal children.

"Oh, for the Element’s sake!" she swore. After all, when a dozen genetically engineered killers come into your office and demand something of you, you don’t just say no. Reaching over to her desk, she called up an HPADD and scrolled through until she found the proper words. "First Jor’Marak, can you vouch for the loyalty of your men?" she said with bored disdain.

Jor’Marak stood at full attention and replies with the time-honored words of history. "We pledge our loyalty to the Founders, from now until death."

"Then receive this reward from the Founders, may it keep you strong. Blah, blah, blah." And she handed the trays over to Jor’Marak.

Adan’Olam was clearly not amused by Saldeed’s post-litany commentary. "You are not supposed to say ‘blah, blah, blah.’ It is disrespectful of the Founders!"

Jor’Marak held out his right arm to steady Adan’Olam’s intemperate behavior while he clamped the ampoule in place to his feeding tube with his left. "We demand excellence of ourselves, Doctor, and so we expect it in others. Do remember that the next time we come for the White." Saldeed tried not to take that as a threat, no matter how it sounded. It was probably the Jem’Hadar’s idea of humor.

One by one, the twelve Jem’Hadar sipped away at their supply of Ketracel White, relishing in what was obviously for them its invigorating properties. "I don’t suppose you’d care for a belt of ale to wash that down?" she quipped, trying to lighten the mood.

"We do not drink," said Jor’Marak, as he picked up the other trays of White. So much for humor, she thought as the soldiers led their way out of the office one by one.

Cyrus Krell was the last one left, looking over his shoulder as he departed to escort the Jem’Hadar back to their compound. "Look at it this way, Doctor," he said with muted amusement. "You only have to do this once a month."

"Very funny, Lieutenant," she retorted. "I believe you and Commander Vorik and your Jem’Hadar friends must all read from the same joke book." Returning to her desk as the security officer left, she breathed in a sigh of relief. A fight with the Kazon and now hungry Jem’Hadar. What else did she need today to disrupt her life?

"JolAntru!" a young voice called out from the hallway.

The Romulan physician let a sigh escape her lips as she looked out to see another Romulan standing in the door, the young adopted daughter of her captain. Today just keeps getting better and better, she thought. "I beg your pardon?" she asked.

"I…was just saying hello," said Katrina Kim with a casual smile. "I’ve been taking a tutoring program on Romulan. JolAntrue"

"First of all, child," said Saldeed with evident annoyance, "you’re pronouncing it wrong. It’s jolan tru," she said, saying it as two ords and emphasizing the first syllable. "And second, jolan tru means ‘have a nice day,’ not ‘hello.’"

"Oh, sorry," said Katrina with a casual blush. "Isn’t it all the same thing?"

Saldeed gave a snort of disgust. "Maybe that will teach you the folly of learning languages from a computer, especially a language as richly textured as Rihannsu."

"I’m sorry, it’s just…I just want to learn more about where I come from. What it is to be Romulan."

Saldeed sat up stiffly in her seat, her tone growing in irritation. "If you want to learn something about Romulans, then I will teach you something right now, child. On Romulus, children either learn to act like adults when they’re around their elders, or they stay out of their way. But they don’t get underfoot acting like children."

"I…I didn’t mean to…" she stammered, her face flustered with embarrassment.

"Of course you didn’t, child," said Saldeed wearily, realizing she might have gone a step too far, especially considering that the girl was the captain’s daughter. "You don’t know any better. Listen, your parents clearly went to a great deal of trouble to raise you like a human. Perhaps that’s simply what’s best for you. To be a Rihannsu means you must live as a Rihannsu. A culture is not something one should just try on like the fashion of the season."

"You’re right," said Katrina, her face looking…crushed. She felt humiliated by this summary dismissal, but she wasn’t going to break down and cry, not in front of Saldeed. "I’m…sorry I kept bothering you. I just…I never talked to a Romulan before, that’s all."

Saldeed saw the tears that were starting to form in the corner of the girl’s eyes. She had come on this ship with the express intention of not forming any close attachments. She would perform her duties, add to her body of knowledge, and then just fade into the background and not draw attention to herself. Oh why did this child have to make things so difficult? "You shouldn’t have built it up in your mind so," said Saldeed. "Romulans are people just like any other. There’s nothing we have to offer that you can’t find at home."

"Right," said Katrina, sniffing. "I…I have to go." And with that, the girl ran out of the office and off down the corridor.

Saldeed sat quietly for several minutes after she had left. Well, Tila, she thought to herself, you certainly did a fine job of staying unattached, didn’t you?

By the time the Enterprise had arrived in orbit around the planet Talax, every military instillation in the system was on full alert. Kim had hailed the planet ahead of their arrival, of course, so as not to alarm the Talaxian people with the arrival of a nearly two-kilometer long starship over their homeworld. Despite this, eighteen system patrol gunships were dispatched to "intercept" the unknown vessel, which made Harry grateful that Captain Brax was aboard to try and calm the panicked commanders down and reassure them that Enterprise had no hostile intentions. In their original mission profile, they were to combine diplomacy with a pre-recorded message from Neelix, relating to his people his adventures in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants and reassuring them of the Delta Fleet’s honorable intentions. Having two live Talaxians aboard, especially one with a mother on the People’s Assembly, made matters much simpler.

It was after a delay of nearly an hour that the gunships were ordered to stand down and allow Enterprise to approach the planet under careful observation. Naturally, the Talaxian military response was of no threat to them, Harry quickly realized. Still, it was good diplomacy to show their ships the proper deference and not highlight Enterprise’s superior capabilities. The Talaxians had been decades behind Federation starship technology even during Voyager’s day. The past quarter-century had brought modest refinements to their ships, but nothing as revolutionary as zero-point energy or the multi-spatial technologies that the Discovery-class employed.

Once they were in range, they received an official response to their request for a meeting with the Talaxian government. The First Chair of the People’s Assembly and the Board of Advisors would agree to meet with a small away team, of which Captain Kim must be included. Of course, the crew of the Nexine and their passenger would accompany them down.

Since this was the first away mission of the expedition through the Delta Quadrant, Harry considered carefully whom he would include. Finn Bartok was an obvious choice, as was Annika. Including a civilian Director of Science in the meeting would demonstrate the non-military nature of their mission, as well as benefiting from her encyclopedic knowledge of the quadrant.

This also meant that Commander Kalan would have to be left in command of the Enterprise in his absence. It wasn’t that he didn’t think the Klingon officer wasn’t capable. Quite the opposite, in fact. He just wished he had had more time to work with him before being certain if Kalan valued the same goals from this mission that he did.

He also decided, with great hesitation, to have First Jor’Marak escort them to the meeting, but remain unarmed. Although the appearance of the Jem’Hadar alone might be considered provocative, the Talaxians would be unaware of their fierce reputation. There was no way he could be certain what to expect on the planet below. Naturally, this being a diplomatic meeting, it would have been unwise going in with an armed officer. But a Jem’Hadar, even unarmed, was by definition a formidable weapon. As long as he remained silent and alert, Jor’Marak’s presence would not be disruptive. But, should there be trouble, he would be a useful asset to have on hand.

Harry Kim had never had occasion to visit the surface of Talax those many years ago when Voyager had been in orbit on its mission of mercy to Rinax. What he knew of the Talaxian homeworld came only from the raw data of historical records and the sad tales of his friend Neelix of those depressing times in the wake of the Haakonian War.

But clearly the intervening decades had brought some renewed vitality to the population. One thing that amazed Harry upon his beaming to the surface was the manner in which Talaxian cities were integrated with their forests. The capital city of Talax’ul’Rhee looked like an image out of an old Tolkein novel, like the home of a mystic race of elves. The towering trees at the heart of the metropolis were said to be thousands of years old, out of which the city’s most venerable institutions, including the People’s Assembly, had been carved.

Harry and his away team stood silently at the center of the meeting chamber of the Board of Advisors, the inner circle of elected officials who administered to the executive branches of government at the behest of the First Chair of the People’s Assembly. Having just explained the Delta Fleet Command’s proposal to them, he patiently waited for a response from Menex, the elderly First Chair. Menex was easily the oldest Talaxian Harry had ever seen. His mane was a ghostly white mist and his speckles had faded to a pasty gray color. His body seemed frail, but Harry could sense from his eyes that there was a sharp mind at work within.

"You propose a most generous offer, Captain Kim," said Menex. "I too recall your Captain Janeway and her Voyager. From what I remember, she treated our people fairly at a time when Talaxians had few friends in the galaxy."

"The possibilities are just remarkable," said Dexa, Brax’s mother and Minister of the Interior. "The possibility of regular commerce with beings from the far side of the galaxy…" The majority of those officials in the room seemed to nod their heads with approvals and soft voices of agreement.

"And what of the risk to our sovereignty?" questioned Minister Voxal, a stocky-looking older Talaxian with a gravelly voice. "We know next to nothing about these people, and we’re supposed to just allow them to establish a bridgehead in our solar system on the vague promise of sharing their knowledge and technology?" A few scattered grunts of agreement were heard after Voxal’s tirade.

"Minister," said Harry respectfully, "I understand your concern about our intentions, but I had hoped that your viewing the testimonial from Ambassador Neelix would have…"

"Ambassador Neelix," Voxal huffed. "Yes, I’ve checked the background of this so-called ambassador of yours. A mere salvage operator, and a draft-dodger to boot!"

"Minister," said Dexa patiently, "please let’s not revisit that issue again. The Assembly granted clemency to all those opposed to the war years ago. We need to think about the future, not dredge up the past."

"Indeed, Minister," Voxal retorted harshly. "I can understand why you of all Talaxians would not want the past of you and your fellow thinkers revisited."

Brax looked angry enough to want to punch out the arrogant politician, but Bartok quickly put a calming hand on the young man’s shoulder. "That won’t help, Captain," he whispered. "Besides, your mother strikes me as a woman who can stand up to a few harsh words."

"Minister Voxal!" Menex shouted in controlled rage. "That is not how we conduct ourselves in this chamber."

"My apologies, First Chair," said Voxal contritely. "But my wariness at the outlander’s proposal still stands."

"Understandable," said Menex as he turned to Harry and his entourage. "Captain Kim, I share Minister Dexa’s optimistic hopes for what this starbase of yours will bring to Talax. But my people will need reassurances of your fleet’s honorable intentions. Perhaps, were you to provide an invaluable service for the Talaxian people, your promises of fair play would be taken at their word."

"Here it comes," whispered Bartok into Harry’s left ear.

"As you are well aware," Menex continued, "we have received from the Haakonian Order the terms and concessions intended for a permanent treaty of peace. If the treaty passes the vote in the People’s Assembly, as I expect it will, then we will proceed to meet with the Haakonian representatives for a summit to draft the formal declaration of peace and alliance. Matters would proceed much more quickly were a neutral third party to sit in arbitration."

Harry let out a quiet sigh of discontent. Exactly as Quag had predicted, he thought. They were already becoming entangled into local politics. And given the benefits to be had, there was simply no way he could withdraw.

"First Chair," said Harry with a formal nod, "I offer the services of myself and my ship to aid in the negotiations."

"Splendid," said the elderly minister. "Over the years I’ve learned to judge the character of those I meet by their words and their actions. I believe you to be a man of your word, Captain Kim."

"Enterprise won’t let you or your people down, sir," said Harry respectfully. "If, however, I am to weigh the needs of both sides fairly, I’ll need to be brought up to date on what’s happened to both your people since the Federation last met with them, along with the other races of the sector. Captain Brax and Ms. Tessar have told me a few key facts, but I’d like to hear more."

Dexa went on to explain how it was that the two governments had come to be brought to the bargaining table. After the war, the Talaxians had been left in disarray. Most of their off-world holdings had been ceded to the Haakonians under the humiliating terms of surrender. For a brief time, the Haakonian Order had even occupied the surrounding space around Talax, until economic necessity had forced a withdrawal. Many Talaxians had chosen to find opportunities off world, as prospects seemed so bleak at home.

But things were not all rosy on the Haakonian home world either. The war was so unpopular with the citizenry that the Ruling Order had found it necessary to enact emergency powers and suspend civil liberties in order to maintain the rule of law. But it also meant that the war had to be brought to an end as quickly as possible in order to prevent a full-scale civic breakdown, thus the decision to use the Metreon Cascade on Rinax. The Haakonian leaders had assumed that victory would be rewarded by a governing mandate from the people, but the atrocities of mass casualties had only deepened the citizens’ hatred for their government. The benefits of victory didn’t help the weakened Haakonian economy, as all spare resources were used to maintain internal security and prop up the unpopular government. Eventually, a breaking point was reached, and the old regime was forced from power, making way for new leaders eager to restore what was lost before the war.

Both Talax and Haakonia rebuilt, but the pain and hurt from the war was still strong, and both societies viewed each other warily. That is, until the Kazon Union of Sects appeared on the scene.

"The Kazon were always a menace to both races," said Dexa, but at least their division kept them from becoming a serious threat. That is, until, they started to unite."

"How did this come about?" asked Annika.

"We’re not too sure about the internal politics," said Dexa. "All that we know is that a new leader emerged from obscurity, claiming to be the son of the late Maje of the Kazon-Nistrim. This leader attracted a cult of personality and seized power among the Nistrim. He forced unification with the other sects, some through treaties, others through conquest. One sect, we’re told, was completely annihilated, down to the last man. That ended about five years ago. Since then, the Kazon Union has been expanding their territory. They’ve made a number of independent worlds into so-called "protectorates," which is just a fancy way of making them turn over a percentage of their wealth each year in exchange for not getting bombarded from orbit."

"Lovely people as always," said Harry.

"The one thing that’s kept them from steamrolling over us is the war they’re embroiled in with the Krowtonans," added Menex. "Otherwise, we might have been made a protectorate by now. Certainly our fleet is no match for their combined forces."

"Krowtonans?" Harry asked with puzzlement. "That name sounds familiar."

"They are a species indigenous to the sector past the Dendarri Nebula," Annika pointed out. "Also aggressive and technologically inferior to the Federation."

"They’re powerful enough," said Dexa. "No Talaxian ship has crossed their borders and ever returned. The Kazon have pushed into their territory, trying to prove that they’re the dominant power in the region. In any event, between the Kazon and the Krowtonans, we realized that we’d never be entirely safe on our own, and that the Haakonians were in just as much danger as we were. We were better off working together than standing apart."

"A reality which makes your offer of friendship all the more attractive, Captain," added another minister.

"Surely you must know that there are greater threats out there than the Kazon," said Annika.

"You mean, the Vidiians?" said Menex. "They’ve kept their borders sealed for the last 25 years. No one has heard from them for a long time."

"Sealed?" said Harry with puzzlement. "Haven’t they cured themselves of the Phage yet?"

"We’ve heard some rumors about a cure," said Menex. "But we also hear rumors about continued organ harvesting. In any case, Captain, we give that region of space a wide berth."

"I speak of dangers even greater than the Vidiians, First Chair," said Annika. "What of the Borg Collective?"

"The Borg?" Voxal scoffed. "No one has even seen a Borg among any of the known worlds in decades!"

"Do not treat the threat of assimilation lightly, Minister," said Annika with all due seriousness. "We have reason to believe that Borg territory has expanded. All the races of the Delta Quadrant could be in jeopardy at some point in the future."

I assure you, Doctor Kim, we have far more immediate concerns," said Menex gravely. "Signing this treaty will be instrumental in resisting the Kazon advance. Unless, Captain, you can provide for us the means to better defend ourselves as well?"

Harry said nothing, as he glanced over his shoulder, thinking about the weapons he did have at his disposal. Jor’Marak stood silently as he had been ordered, observing everything, yet saying nothing.

With the meeting concluded, the Advisory Board disbanded to discuss the opportunity presented to them. This gave Minister Voxal the opportunity to slip out to his private office, where his aide was waiting for him. Away from the other ministers, the gruff exterior quickly slipped away, revealing a very worried look.

"What did the offworlders have to say, Minister?" asked his aide, Pirix.

"Activate the com link," Voxal barked, "Priority Red with full encryption. And hurry!" He paced nervously as the frightened aide scurried about, establishing the requested link on the huge ornate wall screen.

After several seconds, the screen came to life. A scowling face came into focus with rough olive skin, elaborately coifed hair, and a dark red tattoo around its left eye—the face of a kazon’ai.

"I must speak with your master," Voxal demanded. "At once!"

The Kazon sneered at the Talaxian official and then left the screen. After a minute or two, a new face appeared on the screen, or seemed to appear. The view had shifted to a darkened chamber and a character hidden beneath a heavy-lidded hood.

"Voxal!" Nagan bellowed. "You dare to contact me and demand my attention? It is I who contacts you when I have use for you!"

"Forgive me, Grand Maje," said Voxal as he bowed his head respectfully, "but something important has happened here, something that you had to be informed of. There are strangers here on Talax in a powerful starship…"

"I am aware of this starship," said Nagan curtly. "What can you tell me of where it comes from and its intentions?"

Voxal went on to relate the events of the recent meeting, of Harry Kim and the Delta Fleet, and of their offer to mediate the signing of the peace treaty with the Haakonians. Nagan appeared to be unresponsive to the tale, waiting patiently until Voxal had finished speaking.

"This cannot happen!" Nagan shouted. "How could such a thing come to pass at the very moment of my triumph?!"

"I don’t know, Grand Maje," said Voxal nervously. "This ‘Delta One’ proposal will only make the peace treaty that much more attractive to the citizens of both planets. It’s signing will be guaranteed for certain now!"

"No!" said Nagan forcefully. "Nothing is certain, unless I will it so. This Enterprise must be drawn away from Talax, just long enough for my plan to be put into effect. Once events have been put into play among your people, then it will be too late for these strangers to change anything. You must make this happen, Voxal, if you have any hopes of ruling Talax as my Governor."

"B-but how can I do this, Grand Maje?" Voxal pleaded. "The Enterprise is more powerful than the entire defense force of Talax!"

I will provide the excuse," said Nagan. "You will be my messenger."

"Of course, Grand Maje," said Voxal, still uncertain as to where these new events were taking him.

"And furthermore," Nagan commanded, "the captain of the Enterprise must be separated from his ship. If this…Harry Kim…is who I believe him to be, then he must be brought before me."

"I…I don’t understand, Grand Maje," said Voxal. "Surely you don’t actually know this captain from the other side of the galaxy?"

Nagan was silent for a long while, not deigning to answer. Then he finally spoke aloud his thoughts. "The Captain and I have never met. But someone very close to me…she knew his name."

"Hey, elf," Katrina heard a friendly voice call out to her from down the hallway. It was Miral, of course. But right now, the last thing Katrina wanted to be reminded of was her pointed ears.

"You okay?" the pilot asked her as she came over to the teenage girl, seeing the sadness on her face.

"I’m…I guess…I don’t know," Katrina sighed. "I think I’ve realized I don’t cut it as a Romulan."

"Who told you that?" Miral laughed as she put her hand on Katrina’s shoulder. "Doctor Personality? What’d she say?"

"That I was being a pain, pretty much," said Katrina. "I guess she was right."

"Well, if you want to stick it to her, you could always go complain to your dad," said Miral with a wicked gleam. "Or worse yet, your mom."

Oh, I don’t want to do that," said Katrina. "She was saying the truth. Besides, I think Mom would be thrilled if I got off this Romulan thing, so I can go back to being Little Miss Junior Scientist."

"Oh, don’t be so hard on her," said Miral. "You know she wants what’s best for you."

"So she tells me," sighed the young girl. "I just…god, sometimes I just don’t know where I fit in. I mean, I’m not human and I’m not really Romulan either. I just feel like such a freak sometimes."

You’re not a freak," said Miral tenderly. "You’re just unique, that’s all. That’s what my dad would always tell me, that I was the only one like me in the entire universe. Just like you’re the only one just like you. Is that such a bad thing to be?"

"I guess not," said Katrina wearily, before looking up at Miral and smiling. "Did Uncle Tom actually say that to you?"

"I know," Miral smirked. "I bet you never figured my father could say anything so…"

"Sentimental?" Katrina said, filling in the word.

"Actually, I was going to say ‘cornball,’" laughed Miral. "But still, it was true. I guess he didn’t want me ever feeling the way my mom did about herself." She then took on a more serious look as she continued. "You see, my mother always had a problem with her Klingon side. She grew up feeling like she didn’t fit in with being human or being Klingon. It tore her up inside for years. Even after she met Dad, came home, had me, and made her peace with her own father, there was always a part of her inside that kept her from being happy with who she was. I didn’t want to turn out that way. I like who I am. So what if I don’t fit in to some neat little hole? If the rest of the universe says that I have to fit into some category, then they’re the ones with the problem, not me."

"Yeah, I guess that makes sense," said Katrina, feeling herself grow a bit lighter and taller at the same time. "So I guess that makes us both unique," she added with a laugh. "An original elf and an original turtlehead!"

"That’s the spirit!" Miral laughed back.

Katrina looked up at the older woman, wondering deep down if this was the real reason her father had agreed to let Miral transfer on board Enterprise. In a way, Miral was the closest thing she had to an older sister. When she had first begun to notice that boys were…different, there had been Miral, just a subspace-call away, answering questions that she had been too embarrassed to ask her mother. In any event, she was glad she could be here for her now.

"Bridge to Katrina Kim," came the voice of Naomi Wildman over Katrina’s personal combadge.

"Here," she answered.

"Katrina, I’m patching in a call from your father down on the surface. Hold on."

After a delay of less than a second, Naomi’s voice was replaced with that of her dad. "Hello, princess? Can you hear me?"

"I can hear you fine, Dad. What’s up? Are things okay down there?"

"Actually, they’re going just as I’ve expected. I think it’s good news for the mission. In fact, the Talaxians are allowing us to bring down more people from the Enterprise. I was thinking this might be a great opportunity for you."

"You mean…I get to see Talax?" she said excitedly.

"Absolutely. Talax’ul’Rhee is a beautiful city. I’ll have Transporter Room One beam you down to the Assembly reception chamber."

As soon as the call was complete, Katrina looked up at Miral, her earlier mood dispelled, replaced with the excitement of a new adventure. "Whoa! My first Delta Quadrant planet! Do you think Talax will look like the way Uncle Neelix described it in his stories?"

"Well, I’m pretty sure the Ice Demons and the Forest Sprites have moved on to better neighborhoods," Miral chuckled.

"Bridge to Ensign Paris," came a harsh Klingon voice over her combadge. "Your duty shift begins now. Do you require a military escort before you are ready to assume the helm?"

"Uh, on my way, Commander. Paris out." Miral looked down at her young friend, trying to hide a sour expression beneath a know-it-all grin. "I’d better get going. In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve got a few demons of my own up here."

Commander Kalan sat in the captain’s chair, his eyes glaring phaser beams at the back of Ensign Hegel’s head, where Miral Paris should have been sitting two minutes ago. No doubt she believed that her talent would allow her to get away with such slipshod tardiness. Maybe with another commander, he thought, but not him. He demanded much of himself, and even more of those who served beneath him. Anything less would dishonor him as an officer.

Naomi Wildman looked on gingerly from her own workstation. She had learned over the last few weeks that the first officer had his moods, and you did not cross them when he was in them. Usually, it was Miral Paris that was at the heart of those black moments. The junior officer simply had a way of getting under the Klingon’s skin, with her oh-so-human flippancy in the face of his angry-warrior command style.

"Commander," said Naomi cautiously, "we have the first round of crew members requesting permission to visit the surface. The Captain’s already granted clearance for his daughter to beam down."

Kalan nodded quietly. They had received the notice from Talax that a small number of crew, thirty at most, would be allowed to visit Talax, after which more of Enterprise’s crew and passengers would be allowed down in a fully extended shore leave.

Then Naomi’s HCARS display chimed as she detected something received through the starship’s primary subspace transceivers. "Sir, we’re receiving another distress signal. It’s a broad-frequency transmission."

"Another distress call?" said Kalan. "Is there no ship in the Delta Quadrant that can defend itself without assistance?"

"The rest of the Talaxian fleet seems to have received it too," said Cyrus Krell from Tactical. "There’s plenty of com-traffic back to the surface."

"I’ve identified the source, sir," said Naomi. "It’s fifteen parsecs away…I think the signal is Haakonian." She then looked up at the first officer. "Orders, sir?"

Kalan was silent as he folded his arms. "Do nothing. We have a mission here. The Talaxians have already received the signal and are capable of responding on their own. If they require our assistance, then they will ask for it."

Harry and his entourage walked along the winding branches of the downtown forest cluster of Talax’ul’Rhee, peering over the wooden guardrails to watch the traffic of the city below. Only foot and manual vehicle traffic were allowed in the city center, mechanized transport being banished to the outer reaches of the green metropolis. For faster movement between trees and their artificial counterparts, elaborate lengths of cable were stretched from building to building, where passengers rode in ornately wooden-carved gondolas. It was a fascinating design, different from the cities on Earth that he had known. It seemed both urbane and bucolic, all mixed together in a curious blend.

This was one reason why he went to the stars, he thought. Not for adventure or for glory. But to meet with new people and see how they lived their lives, to see their unique solutions to the same problems that different races across the galaxy had learned to deal with in their own fashion.

Harry and Annika walked along with their daughter, both of them delighted that they were able to share such a wonderful exploratory opportunity with her. Finn Bartok walked a few paces behind them, chatting amicably with another member of the crew, Professor Yola Mahat. Annika had not been pleased that the Cardassian scientist had beamed down and managed to glom onto their friendly outing. Over the past month, the two of them had managed to work out an accommodation in their working environment. Barely. Mahat could believe whatever she liked as long as her religion was kept out of the office and out of her status reports. Yet despite the wall that Annika was determined to build up between them, Mahat still displayed the infuriating habit of ingratiating herself into every conversation within earshot, always using twice as many words as necessary. If she had to be forced to endure a deputy director with a philosophical bent, thought Annika, then why couldn’t she have been assigned a Vulcan? At least the Vulcans had no difficulty with silence.

And, of course, trailing far behind them all, was Jor’Marak. He moved silently, his eyes darted from side to side, scanning for any possible danger. Even though the Talaxian passersby did not know what a Jem’Hadar was, they could tell by his appearance and movements alone that he was someone to be reckoned with. He was given a wide berth and a nervous glance by all.

"Talax’ul’Rhee dates its history back nearly three thousand years," said Minister Dexa, who, along with her son, had become the Enterprise party’s unofficial guides to the city, "back to the reign of the first of the Summer Queens and the unification of the first Rhee tribesmen."

"It’s so beautiful," said Katrina, as she leaned over the railing to peer down at the distant roots of the giant tree, more than five hundred meters below. "This doesn’t seem at all like the way Uncle Neelix used to talk about Talax. Everyone here seems so happy."

"Your friend Neelix, the one from the video?" said Brax. "He would have left here when? Maybe thirty years ago?"

"I’m not surprised," said Dexa. "It would have been not long after the war. Talax was a very different place back then. The economy was in terrible shape and many city services were left unmet. Our cities require a lot of care and attention to look this beautiful. Many Talaxians left home to seek opportunities elsewhere."

"Including yourself?" said Annika. "I recall Minister Voxal’s comments during the Board of Advisor’s meeting. He implied something about you and your ‘fellow thinkers’?"

Dexa sighed deeply, her eyes looking sad. "It’s true. When Brax was just a baby, we and several hundred others set out to find ourselves a new colony, far away from the despair of Talax, the Haakonians and the rest of the sector."

"But you eventually returned to your home world?" said Mahat.

"We realized that there was no place in the quadrant where Talaxians would be welcome, except among our own kind. We went from planet to planet for nearly ten years, trying to make a home for ourselves. Brax’s father was even killed on one of the worlds we tried to settle on. The last place we tried to colonize was an out-of-the-way asteroid, someplace we didn’t think anyone would want. But we were forced to leave there also. It was after that when we all voted to return to Talax, and try and make it a better place than as we left it. By then things had started to turn around."

"I still can’t believe some miners with a claim to some backwater asteroid on the far side of the Tanaree Void couldn’t let us keep one lousy asteroid," Brax laughed. But Annika wasn’t laughing.

"The Tanaree Void?" she said with puzzlement. "Surely your vessels could not have reached so far." Seeing the confused look on her husband’s face and those around him, she went on to explain. "The Tanaree Void is more than thirty thousand light-years from Talax. The Borg charted that region of space centuries ago. There is no possible way that a Talaxian could have knowledge of so distant a region of space, nor could a Talaxian starship have traveled so far and returned in less than a decade."

Dexa looked at Brax sharply, as if he had said something that he shouldn’t have. She then looked back at the Enterprise crew, uncertain of what she should say next. "Captain Kim, what I’m about to tell you was officially made a state secret after our group returned to Talax. I shouldn’t be sharing this with you at all, but I have the feeling your people know more about the more distant parts of this quadrant of the galaxy than we do."

"It’s all right, Minister," said Harry. "You can trust us."

"Yes, I believe I can," she answered him. "When our settlement group first decided to leave Talax, we wanted to find someplace far beyond the reach of any Haakonian or otherwise hostile fleet. My husband…he worked as an archivist at the Museum of Antiquities. He came across references, old stories from before the first unified Assembly, stories that were supposed to be based upon real events. Centuries ago, our planet was visited by beings from another world, beings who called themselves…"

"The Vaad’uaar," Annika completed her sentence. "Yes, we know of them. We also know that they visited Talax during their period of primacy in the quadrant."

"My goodness," said Dexa, suitably impressed. "Your people have been around, haven’t they? Then you must know about the tales about how they were able to travel through holes in the sky."

"Their subspace conduits," said Harry. "We know about them, too. Are you saying that you found the conduit they used to visit this sector?"

Dexa nodded in the affirmative. "We interpreted the old legends and identified the origin point of their arrival. The conduit mouth orbits an old red flare star nearly six light years away. It has no planets or heavy metals, so its been ignored by space travelers for centuries. It took days of sensor scans before our scouts finally found it. We didn’t tell anyone about our find until we returned to Talax ten years later. The Defense Committee immediately swore us to secrecy and kept the existence of the conduit a secret. I suppose you could say that was how I was first introduced to politics."

"I don’t understand," said Mahat, her face showing both enrapture at the discovery, and confusion at its logical conclusions. "If you were able to find such a marvel, then why do you keep it a secret? Such knowledge should be shared and explored."

"Well," said Dexa. "The original idea was to keep it a secret from other races, especially the Haakonians or the Kazon, until Talax was in a better position to properly exploit and defend the conduit. It was nearly four years later that the Assembly was able to send a series of expeditions back along the conduit and chart the various branches that we never explored ourselves." She then grew more solemn as she paused, unsure of how to proceed next. "Not one of those expeditions ever came back."

Harry didn’t want to say it out loud, but he knew that Annika was thinking the same thing that he was. Delta Fleet Command had sent out three dozen probes to various points across the Delta Quadrant over three years ago, both to test the new slipstream technology and to scout ahead of the crewed ships that were to follow. Nearly a third of the probes had disappeared without a signal, indicating that the Borg might have assimilated them. What concerned everyone back home was that one of the regions targeted by the probes was the heart of the former territory of the Vaad’uaar. If that region, along with the beings who lived there, were now assimilated by the Collective, then Talax was in very real danger of being on the front lines of a future Borg attack, a fact that made the establishment of a permanent presence here all the more critical.

"Ah, my friends," said the voice of Minister Voxal, as he spread his arms wide in an insincere gesture of openness, as he walked out onto the veranda where the tour group was now assembled. "I hope that dear Dexa has been taking the best possible care of you."

"She has, Minister," replied Harry, as graciously as he could. He was more than a bit put off by Voxal’s sudden obsequiousness.

"Captain," said Voxal, "I deeply regret interrupting your tour of our fair capital, but there is a matter that I’ve been asked to bring to your attention. It seems that we’ve received another distress signal from a ship in trouble. Only this time, the vessel is Haakonian."


"Yes," said Voxal. "In fact, we showed the message to Ms. Tessar and she has confirmed that the transmission is a Haakonian diplomatic frequency. It’s quite possibly a follow-up mission that the Haakonian Order dispatched in case Ms. Tessar was delayed. In any event, we fear they may have fallen victim to another Kazon attack."

"And you want the Enterprise to intercede?" Harry asked.

"If it wouldn’t be too much trouble," said Voxal, grinning a broad politician’s smile. "Your ship was so easily able to chase off the attackers of Minister Dexa’s son, we thought that it would be a simple matter for you to do the same this time around. Such a display of good will would not go unnoticed among my people, or the Haakonians."

Harry groaned inwardly, realizing full well that no good deed ever goes unpunished. "Minister, I hope that these goodwill requests don’t become a regular habit. We’re willing to help out this one time, but we can’t be pressed into service every time you people need someone to do your heavy lifting."

"I understand completely, Captain," said Voxal. "And we do thank you for your willingness to help us."

Harry then turned to Bartok. "I guess we’d better issue the recall orders for everyone who’s beamed down…"

"Oh, Captain," said Voxal, "surely this doesn’t mean that you’ll be leaving as well? I hardly think that would be necessary. You have a full crew still aboard and your ship could easily handle any Kazon forces you might encounter, assuming, of course, that that is who we are dealing with. First Chair Menex had asked me to offer you and your party an orbital inspection tour. After all, you will want to pick out potential sites to place this new starbase of yours, won’t you?"

"Couldn’t this wait until the Enterprise returns, Minister?" asked Harry, his patience wearing thin, but kept under a veil of diplomacy.

"I’m very sorry, Captain," said Voxal, "but the First Chair’s schedule is quite demanding. He has the time to meet up with us at our base on the moon Primax. I told him that we would be able to rendezvous with him this afternoon. I hope that won’t be a problem?"

"Harry," said Annika, placing her hand on his arm, "Commander Kalan is perfectly capable of overseeing the rescue of this lost ship."

"Very well," Harry said reluctantly. "My wife and I will be able to meet with the First Chair. Mr. Bartok, as senior officer on the surface I’ll need you as point for all our people down here while Enterprise is away. And I’ll need you to keep an eye on Katrina."

"Dad!" Katrina wailed. "I don’t need a babysitter."

"Katrina Kim," said Annika sternly. "You are on an unfamiliar planet. However hospitable the people may be, it is unwise to allow you to roam without adult supervision."

"And just to be on the safe side," Harry said as he turned to the rear of their formation, to where Jor’Marak stood silently at his lonely vigil. "First Jor’Marak, I have an assignment for you."

"I will see to your protection on this mission, Captain," said the Jem’Hadar as he stood at attention.

"Belay that," said Harry. "You’re to remain here with Commander Bartok and my daughter. See to it that no harm comes to her. Obey any commands that he gives you in my absence."

"Sir," he wanted to object. His orders, his very essence of being, were to see to the safety of both the Enterprise and its captain. Remaining behind when his duty demanded him elsewhere, it was not a proper role for a soldier. But a soldier’s duty was also to obey, and so he did.

"Excellent," said Annika. "Professor Mahat, I am certain that there will be much on the remainder of the tour that will be of interest of you. I will expect…"

"Actually, Doctor," said Mahat gently, "I would like to meet with you and the captain after the site inspection. Three of Talax’s moons support indigenous life, and part of my duties involve preparing environmental impact reports of our construction efforts out here. I’m sure that Delta Fleet Command wouldn’t want us to disrupt any local ecosystems in our efforts to help the Talaxians."

"No," said Annika icily, "they would not. But I believe there is much on Talax that you will find equally fascinating." She was not pleased with the idea of being cooped up with the ingratiating scientist, not even for a short orbital flight.

None of them paid much attention as Voxal leaned over to his diminutive aide, who had remained quietly behind his master, and gave him a silent nod, indicating that everything was in play.

Using the new high-warp nomenclature and not the infinite decimal points that engineers seemed to favor, Enterprise was now surging through space at just past Warp 13, which put the source of the distress call just minutes away. Kalan understood the reasons for sending Enterprise on this mission of mercy, with the fastest Talaxian ships limited to an emergency speed of Warp 9. If there were any people in trouble on that Haakonian vessel, the Talaxians would never reach them in time. But Enterprise still had a chance.

Kalan understood, but that didn’t mean he had to like it. There were far more honorable tasks for a warrior than cleaning up other people’s problems.

"We’re coming up on the source of the distress call," said Krell.

"Bring us out of warp," Kalan ordered, sitting up tall in the command chair. Miral gestured with her HCARS interface and the streaking stars on the main viewer slowed down to a crawl.

"I’ve got the ship on sensors," Krell reported. "The markings are definitely Haakonian. Three AUs from our position."

"Bring us closer," said Kalan to Miral, as he peered closer to the viewscreen and watched the tiny dot of light grow until it became a recognizable starship. "Any other vessels?"

"No, sir," reported Krell, his attention rapt upon his own HCARS monitor. "I can’t detect any other ships in the vicinity. She’s all alone."

"Maybe the attackers got what they came for and left," offered Naomi as she looked up from Ops.

"If they did," said Krell, "then they were really clean about it. That ship hasn’t got a mark on her. No battle damage, no signs of hull strain. She’s just drifting there in space."

"Well, the distress call didn’t actually say they were being attacked," said Miral as she craned her head around. "We all just assumed that after what happened last time. Maybe they have engine problems or something and they just need us for a jump start?"

"If that’s the case, then I will surely kill the captain of that vessel for wasting my time," growled Kalan. He quickly glanced over his shoulder to see the horrified look on Naomi Wildman’s face. "That was Klingon humor, Lieutenant."

"Oh, right, sir," she answered nervously before returning to her display. "I’ve detected four life forms aboard. I think they’re Haakonian."

"Hail them," Kalan commanded. "I want to talk to these people and find out what’s happening here."

Naomi tried to make the connection between the two ships, but to no avail. "Sir, the Haakonian vessel isn’t responding. Their com-system appears to be functional. They’re just not acknowledging."

"I don’t like this," said Kalan warily. "Mr. Krell, be prepared to…"

"Sir!" Krell called out. "I’m detecting a large vessel decloaking three hundred kilometers off our port bow…it’s a Kazon ship, sir. One of their big ones, a Predator." Indeed, there on the monitor was a monstrous blob of a starship, slightly larger in size than the Enterprise, bearing down upon them.

"That’s impossible!" said Naomi in the heat of the moment. "The Kazon didn’t have cloaking technology like this. They didn’t even have transporters!"

"Clearly our information is twenty-five years out of date," said Kalan as he stood up fiercely. "Raise shields! Go to Red Alert!"

"There’s two more ships decloaking, sir," said Krell. "And the first ship is powering up weapons. She’s…"

"Take evasive maneuvers!" Kalan ordered to the helm, but it was too late. The Predator fired her phasers at them at full blast, yet only creating the slightest of rumblings throughout the bridge.

"We took a hit on Decks 19 and 20," reported Naomi. "No hull damage, but the shields dropped to 99%."

"We lost power?" Kalan stammered in disbelief. "From a Kazon ship?"

"I don’t understand it, sir," said Naomi. "Those Predators are basically converted cargo carriers. They shouldn’t have more than the equivalent of a battery of Type VII phasers. That blast had to be at least from a Type X."

"Obviously they got a few upgrades," Miral called out as she struggled with the helm. "Engaging evasive maneuvers, now!"

"Ships two and three are both locking on," said Krell. "They’re firing!"

A double volley of phaser fire shot past the Enterprise as the ship dodged to avoid being hit. Of course, the targeting systems on the two Predators weren’t the same caliber as their phaser emitters.

"Ship number one is locking on again," reported Krell.

"Arm a single quantum torpedo!" Kalan shouted over the din of the bridge. "Prepare to return fire!"

Naomi looked up with alarm at the commander’s orders. Starfleet rules of engagement in non-wartime combat called for the initial return of fire to be with phasers to disable an attacker’s weapons, then engines if they did not withdraw. Torpedoes were considered a blunt instrument used to destroy an enemy ship if greater restraint proved untenable. At least that was how Starfleet taught it. Delta Fleet Command allowed a bit more leeway to the individual ship commanders, yet Starfleet officers were still expected to follow the rules as laid down in the regulations. Clearly Kalan did not see the need for any distinction. Nor, apparently did Lieutenant Krell.

"Fire!" ordered Kalan.

Torpedo away," said Krell, as a quantum torpedo was seen targeting the midsection of the first Kazon Predator. The ship’s shields flared upon impact and flickered wildly, the hull plating buckling from the feedback in response to the detonation. Clearly Kazon shields were not equipped to handle the raw zero-point energies of a quantum torpedo explosion.

Their shields are down by eighty percent," reported Krell. Before he could continue, the ship rumbled once again, indicating another heavy hit.

"Triple torpedo barrage from the second ship," said Krell. "Shield integrity is at 97%."

Lock phaser fire onto any weakened areas of the first Predator’s hull," ordered Kalan. "And fire aft torpedoes at each of the two remaining vessels."

Sir, wouldn’t it be enough to just disable their weapons?" Naomi implored. "Perhaps if we cloaked the ship, we…"

"Maintain your station, Lieutenant!" Kalan barked. "We are at war, from the moment this vessel was attacked. And we will not flee from a technologically inferior enemy!"

"Aye, sir," said Naomi meekly, as she kept her head focused on her display, watching two separate views of the torpedoes striking the two vessel behind them, and the phaser beams dancing across the surface of the damaged ship before them.

"Commander," Miral called out from the Helm, seeking to diffuse the tension on the bridge. "It looks like they’re backing off."

"They’re going to warp," said Krell, as he watched the three ships line up and disappear in a bright flash. "They’ve accelerated to Warp 8, which is also faster than we’d expect for a Predator."

Where’s the Haakonian vessel?" said Kalan with a low, even tone.

"She went to warp with the others, sir," said the tactical officer.

"Shall we give chase and rip out their guts, Commander?" inquired Miral.

Kalan was quiet, wondering if the young officer was mocking him, or if the heat of the battle had brought out something remotely…Klingon within her. In either event, he watched the screen intently before making his command decision. "No, Ensign. Maintain our current position and cancel Red Alert. Hail the captain and inform him of the situation." He then turned to the rest of the bridge crew, his face twisted in a scowl. "I want the entire senior staff in the Briefing Room in one hour. Our tactical information is decades out of date and we will be better prepared should we encounter a larger Kazon force in the future. I will expect reports from each of you regarding your conclusions about what just happened here. We should never have been taken by surprise by those vessels, nor should we have taken any hits by their backward targeting systems. This was unacceptably sloppy, especially from the more…untested crewmembers." He cast particularly withering glares at both Naomi and Miral. "Mr. Krell, you have the bridge. I’ll be in Engineering with Mr. Vorik." And with that, Kalan stomped into the turbolift and let the doors slide behind him.

Naomi watched him leave as she turned to Krell, who was making his way to the command chair. "Can you believe that?" she whispered to him softly, but still emotionally, not to be loud enough for the entire bridge crew to hear. "He was trying to destroy those ships! He didn’t even make an effort to disable them."

"It’s his call," said Krell with a shrug. "He’s in command. That’s his job."

"But he didn’t show even the slightest amount of restraint!"

Krell looked over at Naomi and gave her a direct glare, one that Naomi found quite unnerving with his artificial eyes. "You’ve got to be kidding. All three of those ships limped away because we allowed them to. Even with all the enhancements they made, those ships were still not enough to take us out of action. If the commander had wanted them dead, then they’d be history. With a ship this heavily armed, restraint takes on a whole different meaning than it would with a Galaxy-class."

"And what are we supposed to do while our executive officer is declaring war on the Kazon?"

"We follow orders," said Krell, still cool as ever. "That’s our job."

The shuttlecraft was small, far too small for Annika’s comfort. Especially if it meant having to listen to Voxal’s aide Pirix go on about the new plans for orbital development around the Talaxian moons. If she had wanted to be bored to death by endless conversation, she would have allowed Yola Mahat to come along instead.

"It’s a remarkable future that the Minister has in mind for Talax, don’t you think, Captain?" said the aide as Harry tried to glance out the side viewport, hoping to discourage him from any further loquaciousness.

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Pirix?" said Harry turning back from the viewport, shifting in his seat.

"Three different moons, all with completely unique microbiological ecosystems. We have high hopes for a lively tourist trade in the near future."

"Um…that would be…interesting," said Harry as he glanced back out the viewport, noticing how they were moving past their intended target.

"Captain?" Pirix asked in confusion.

"Annika," he called out to his wife, "isn’t that Primax we’re passing?"

"Yes," she said, noticing the distant sphere receding against the dark of space. "There is something else that I found puzzling. This shuttle is equipped with warp nacelles, but Minister Voxal indicated that this was a simple, short range orbital craft."

"Well," said Pirix nervously, "that’s not so unusual in Talaxian ship design. Why, we’re famous throughout the sector for…"

"Mr. Pirix," said Harry as he stood up and straightened his uniform, "why do I get the distinct feeling that you’re trying to distract us from something?" He marched over to the hatchway leading out of the passenger section and towards the forward cockpit door.

"Sir, please," said Pirix, "Minister Voxal asked that I see to it that you and your wife were entertained during the flight. I mean, surely you don’t believe that the Minister would lie to you?"

"He is a politician," said Annika coolly. "I have learned that for such individuals, lies can come quite easily."

"I’m sorry you feel that way, Dr. Kim," said Pirix, no longer looking so nervous or vulnerable anymore. In fact, he seemed almost…smug.

The doors slid open just as Harry was about to hit the switch. There stood Voxal, with two armed Talaxians standing behind him, their weapons drawn and aimed. "In that case, Dr. Kim, allow me to offer you some honesty," said the stout minister as he flashed a cruel smile. "Our flight is being diverted. Apparently your diplomatic tour of this sector isn’t over yet, Captain Kim. The Grand Maje himself wishes to speak to you."

"The Grand Maje? Of the Kazon?" said Annika.

"You’re in league with him?" said Harry with amazement. "But…why? All this just to stop a peace treaty? For this you’d betray your own people?"

"I’m a realist, Captain Kim," said Voxal as he folded his arms, "not a wide-eyed dreamer like Minister Dexa. Haakonians and Talaxians can never live in peace together. Too much blood has been spilled. The people will never forgive the Assassins of Rinax. And the Kazon Union is rising in power. Soon they will dominate the entire sector. The best thing for Talax is cut itself the best possible deal, while we’re still in a position to offer reasonable terms. And if should benefit me by being put into a position of power, so much the better." He then looked at the three of them menacingly. "Now, if you’ll both be so kind and take your seats. We have a long flight ahead of us."

Kim glared at the guards, each of them pointing a phaser in his direction. He had always thought of the Talaxians as a gentle people, maybe because of his knowing Neelix and that their appearance reminded him so much of teddy bears. Well, he supposed, even a teddy bear can look intimidating while holding a gun.

Three Kazon warships arrived at the rendezvous point, where the Ravager hung in space waiting for them. A Haakonian light transport followed them, only to pull ahead to land within the huge dreadnought’s hangar bay.

Maje Torral, commander of the Ravager, stood on the deck with a contingent of kazon’ai, waiting for the Haakonian ship’s crew to disembark. Slowly, the transport’s hatch lowered, and four sour-looking Haakonians in military dress came forward.

"General Herrek," Torral greeted the leader. "The Grand Maje sends his complements. He trusts that your departure went unnoticed by your government?"

Herrek, a leathery-skinned Haakonian with silvered hair, looking harsh and timeworn, nodded his head respectfully. "My compatriots back home have covered my tracks well. No one within the Order knows of my presence here."

"Excellent," said the ship’s maje. "Is the device aboard your vessel?"

"Yes," said Herrek, "and taken from our Research Ministry at great risk to me and my people, I might add. But we have it and it is ready to be used. The plans will be made available to the Grand Maje and the Union as per our agreement once my colleagues and I have successfully seized power on Haakonia Prime."

"You seem confident of your success," said Torral.

Herrek let out a snort of disgust. "Our movement may be small today, but once hostilities are renewed with the Talaxians, the masses will flock to our cause. The pacifist libertines in the Ruling Order will be ousted with their heads on a pike for even considering making peace with those hairy tree-worshiping merchants."

"Very good," agreed Torral. "These soldiers of the Union," he said as he gestured to the kazon’ai, "will accompany you on your flight to Talax. Just in case there should be any problems, of course."

"You don’t trust us?" asked the Haakonian general with a twisted look.

"You are in the process of betraying your own people, General," said Torral. "Wouldn’t you want some reassurances if you were the Grand Maje?"

"I suppose I would," said Herrek. "I regret he could not be here in person. I would have liked the opportunity to speak with him in person."

"The Grand Maje is quite busy," said Torral with a proud smile. "He is preparing for some honored guests from Talax."

"I see," said Herrek as he bowed his head respectfully and rejoined his men, who were working to see their ship was fitted and ready for its flight.

Torral’s communicator buzzed and he reached down to answer it. "Is everything in place?" asked the voice that was familiar to all Kazon.

The Haakonian ship is being prepped for launch, Grand Maje," the captain reported humbly to the disembodied voice of his master.

"And what of our attack on the Enterprise?"

"That was…less successful, Grand Maje," Torral said hesitantly. "All three Predators sustained significant damage during the attack. Our shields aren’t strong enough against their offensive weaponry."

"Not even against three of our Predators?" Nagan demanded.

"Your excellence, our strategists estimate it would take at least a dozen Predators to successfully confront Enterprise. To field such a force, we’d have to recall ships from the front lines."

Nagan was silent for the longest time before speaking. "Very well. Enterprise’s destruction can come later. For now, we need only keep her away from Talax long enough for General Herrek to complete his mission. Once the fighting has resumed between the Talaxians and Haakonians, the we can bring in as many ships as we need to hunt them down."

Speak to me," Kalan demanded as he paced at the head of the Briefing Room table, looking out at the assembled senior staff. "How powerful an enemy do we face?"

"I have analyzed the sensor readings taken during the fighting," Vorik reported. "As you are all aware, the Predator starships were originally cargo carriers built by the Trabe. When the Kazon rose against them and forced them off their worlds, they acquired their spacefaring assets and converted them to military usage. At the time of Voyager’s encounter, the Predators were underpowered and underequipped for vessels of their size. It was, at that time, beyond the means of the various Kazon sects to maintain and upgrade them into fully capable warships, limiting their use to that of carrier vessels. A single Intrepid-Class starship was able to outmaneuver them and withstand their firepower."

But that’s no longer the case, is it?" asked Krell.

"Apparently not," said Vorik. "These modified Predators have a higher, more efficient energy curve signature. They’ve been given a far more advanced warp core design and phaser weapons equivalent to Type X emitters. And their shielding has been improved, albeit they remain vulnerable to heavy phaser and torpedo fire. In short, each Predator has been roughly augmented to the strength index of a Galaxy class starship."

"Except for the cloaking device," Miral spoke up, seated towards the back of the room.

"Indeed," said Vorik. "However, I believe the Predator’s cloaking technology to be a first generation system, similar to those first used by the Romulans in the late 23rd Century. Recall that the Kazon required at least twenty seconds to power up their weapons after decloaking, which would indicate their cloak is highly energy-demanding."

"A weakness that we can exploit in the future," said Kalan. "So they’re still not our tactical equals?"

"Individually no," commented Vorik. "But in very large numbers, they could theoretically overwhelm our defenses."

"I still don’t see how could the Kazon have pulled off such an engineering quantum leap," said Naomi. "Retrofitting all those ships…it would take a huge amount of engineering infrastructure. The Kazon don’t strike me as that technically capable. They’re scroungers, not innovators."

"Indeed," Vorik concurred. "Perhaps the Kazon are also receiving outside help."

"Like the Haakonians?" said Kalan.

"I don’t think so," said Naomi. "If the Haakonians had the resources to outfit ships like the Predators, they’d be building their own giant warships. Whoever’s helping the Kazon, they must be very advanced in order to spare that kind of effort."

"But there is clearly some kind of alliance with the Haakonians," said Kalan. "Were we not just ambushed with the aid of a Haakonian crew?"

"Not necessarily," said Vorik. "The Haakonian courier, Ms. Tessar, did indicate that there were those within her government that were adamantly opposed to the peace process. Perhaps these forces have made a bargain with the Kazon to see their aims carried out."

"And Captain Brax said the same about his own people," said Naomi with an increasingly worried look. "If there are Haakonians willing to betray their own government to stop the peace, who’s to say there isn’t a similar deal in place with certain Talaxians as well."

Miral looked over at Naomi with surprise. "You mean, the Kazon may be playing both sides against each other?"

"Not exactly," said Krell. "This sounds a lot like the Khitomer Conspiracy. Remember how General Chang and Admiral Cartwright both wanted to stop the peace accords between the Federation and the Klingons? They both had the same goals. Yet how were two cabals who utterly despised one another able to cooperate and coordinate their efforts? Through the efforts of a neutral third party, of course."

All parties at the table remembered their history lessons and each gave a silent glance over in Saldeed’s direction, each not wanting to say aloud what they were thinking.

Oh, I’ll say it if you people won’t," said Saldeed in exasperation. "The Romulans. It’s no secret that the Romulan Empire dreaded the prospect of the Klingons and the Federation forming an alliance. So they naturally sought out those parties whose interests matched theirs, and used their embassies to act as the go-between. Chang and Cartwright and their fellow travelers never had to deal directly with one another."

"If that is the case here," said Kalan gravely, "and there is a conspirator at work on Talax, then this distress call was more than just an attempt to ambush us. Someone may want Enterprise away from Talax." He then slapped his combadge, situated just about his House sash. "Bridge. Has there been any response to our hails to Captain Kim?"

"Negative, sir," said the voice of the officer of the deck. "We’ve been unable to reach Talax. Our signals in that direction are being blocked."

Krell nodded grimly. "They’re out there. The Kazon. They’re trying to cut us off."

Kalan turned to Krell with fierce urgency. "Lieutenant, can you bypass their cloaking fields?"

The security officer nodded in the affirmative. "I can configure our sensor arrays to utilize an antiproton scan. At tactical ranges, a Romulan-style cloak would easily be lit up."

Then do it," he commanded, then turned his attention to the entire group before him. "We are going to return to Talax as fast as we can. It is very likely that the captain and our away teams are in grave danger from this conspiracy, whatever form it may take. Undoubtedly, there are Kazon vessels between us and the Talaxian system and they will use all force available to stop us." He then looked at them all and continued proudly. "They will not succeed."

"Sir," Vorik spoke up. "I do not believe the Predators are capable of speeds greater than Warp 9.

Enterprise could easily outrun them should we encounter an interdiction fleet."

Kalan looked at the engineer with a warrior’s narrowed eyes and predatory grin. "I do not intend to run, Commander."

Harry Kim gazed out the viewport in unease as he saw the tremendous Kazon dreadnought swallow their shuttle whole in the gaping maw of its docking bay.

"Terrifying, isn’t it?" said Voxal with proud satisfaction. "Far larger your starship. Now you see the power that the Kazon can bring to bear. Whomever allies with that power can be unstoppable."

"You are far too impressed by outward appearances," said Annika contemptuously. "There are forces in the universe that could easily grind your Kazon allies into dust, should they so choose."

"Such as whom? Your Borg friends?" laughed Voxal. "I’m more afraid of Ice Demons than I am of those fairly tales."

Harry tipped his head over to Annika. "Honey," he said, "You shouldn’t have been dragged into this. I’m the man the Kazon want to see. You just happened along at the wrong moment."

"You need not feel regret, Harry," said Annika. "This would not be the first time that my curiosity has gotten the better of me."

As soon as the shuttle was brought into dock, the Talaxian guards let them out into the hangar bay, where a squad of kazon’ai took control of them and ordered them down the corridor. Voxal and his guards followed them from a short distance behind.

Do you see those tattoos on the sides of their faces?" whispered Harry to his wife with bewilderment, as he tried to take in everything around them. "Look familiar to you?"

"Clearly Voyager’s presence in this sector has left a lasting impression," said Annika. "I do not think that Chakotay would consider this a fitting tribute to his tribe."

"No talking!" the kazon’ai squad leader barked as he aggressively shoved Harry forward, almost knocking him down.

After what seemed like an interminable march through the dim grungy corridors of the Ravager, they were led to a pair of wide, ornately decorated front doors. Two more kazon’ai guards stood outside in attendance. They both glanced over the couple, their eyes taking a particular disdain of Annika.

"The Grand Maje will see you," said the squad leader, as the doors parted open and they were led inside.

The large circular room was dark, illuminated by the reddish orange light the Kazon seemed to favor. The walls were decorated with what seemed like various forms of art and weaponry, all of seemingly different styles, undoubtedly plundered from at least a dozen other worlds. Harry tried to make out what looked like masks, mounted on the wall. It was Annika who could see with her biosynthetic eye that the masks were in fact humanoid heads, mostly Kazon, decapitated and arranged for display.

"Do you admire my collection, Captain Kim?" said a soft, almost angelic voice from the dark shadows at the back of the room. A light went on and illuminated a raised dais, flanked by two fierce kazon’ai sentries. Upon the dais sat a figure in a gold and crimson robe, his face obscured by a heavy hood.

"It’s not to my particular taste," said Kim, glancing out of the corner of his eye to ensure that his wife was close by.

"Yes, art is so subjective," the voice laughed as its source got up from his seat.

"Why have you brought us here?" Harry demanded. "You’ve clearly gone to a lot of trouble. What is it you want?"

"Forgive my manners, Captain," said their host. "I am Nagan. Grand Maje of the Kazon Union of Sects and master of all you see before you. Including your future. And as for what I want…what I want is the opportunity to speak with one of the Voyager People. I know of your ship. I know of your crew. And I know of what you did when you came here before."

"How do you know of Voyager?" challenged Annika. "What could a starship from twenty-six years in the past mean to you?"

"Oh, it means a great deal to me, Dr. Kim," said Nagan as he stepped from the shadows and into the reddish light. Slowly he drew back his hood, allowing his face to be seen. Harry in particular gasped at the sight of him.

Nagan’s hair was styled as that of a Kazon, wild, dark, and straight. His skin was of a similar complexion to that of any other Kazon, albeit somewhat paler. But his facial appearance was another matter entirely. There was no mistaking the ridged muscles along his thick neck, the bony recesses around his eyes, or the spoon-shaped indenture on his forehead, the distinctive features of a race that had no business being in this part of the galaxy.

The face of a Cardassian.

"My god…" Harry muttered. "You’re Seska’s child…aren’t you?"

"You knew my mother’s name," he said, flashing a maniacal smile. "That’s good." And just like that, Nagan lunged forward and went for Harry’s neck. Clutching him by the throat, he thrust him against the wall, squeezing the very breath out of him.

"Harry!" Annika cried out. She wanted to rush to his side, but the kazon’ai guards held her back.

"Now, my good captain," Nagan sneered at Kim, "you will tell me all about how you and your crew betrayed and murdered my mother!"

"I…we…didn’t…" Harry gasped, trying to speak.

"I know all about you, Harry Kim," he scoffed at him. "All of your names. You. Janeway. Paris. Torres. Tuvok. Ayala. Carey. Suder. Dalby. And Chakotay. Oh, how she talked about him!

She kept files on all of you. Do you want to know what she said about you, Captain? A typical product of the weakness inherent in Federation society. Naïve and trusting. Easily duped and manipulated. Helpless without the support of others wiser and more experienced."

Harry looked down, trying to ignore the tightening grip around his larynx. He saw Nagan’s muscular arm stretched out firmly. He also saw the pale grayish skin marred with a crisscross pattern of healed scars, some of them looking to be healed over after many years. Who could have done such a painful and brutal act? Could it have contributed to making the young Nagan into what he was now?

"Do you think it was easy? Do you think I’m a monster?" Nagan berated him. "That’s what they all thought…" he said as he gestured with his other hand at the heads on the wall. "Growing up within the Kazon-Nistrim with a face like this…everything I endured, I did because I knew I was marked for greatness!"

"All my life, I’ve been surrounded by betrayal! My mother betrayed by Voyager! And my father…they who called themselves his friends…they betrayed him. He made the Kazon-Nistrim powerful, forced great alliances, and they murdered him. They might have done the same to me, but they ignored me. Cullah’s freak bastard, they called me. They thought that I was no threat to them, that I could never hope to assume power. Well, they learned to regret that mistake soon enough."

"Grand Maje!" Annika cried out from behind her guards. "Please, I beg of you. Do not kill him!"

"You beg?" he said looking back at Annika. "It’s only right that you do so. I am the heir to the heavens, both here in the Delta Quadrant and across the galaxy. It’s my destiny, you see. I rule over all that is Kazon, just as I will soon be master of this sector, and soon after that, the quadrant."

Looking over at Harry with disgust, he then flung him to the ground. "I thought hurting you would bring some satisfaction. But I feel nothing. Just like Mother. One paragraph. That’s all she could be bothered to write about you. She wrote whole pages about Janeway. That’s how little you mattered to her. That’s how unimportant you really were."

Nagan then squatted down before the prostrate human, grinning widely with satisfaction. "Isn’t it funny how these things all come full circle?"

Harry rubbed his bruised neck, trying to take in as much oxygen as he could and recover his stamina. Seska’s baby had grown into more than just another petty tyrant, but a full-blown psychopath. He studied the crazed ruler, hoping that from his dementia he could discern some calculable form of weakness, something he could exploit to get himself and Annika to safety.

The Grand Maje then walked away from Harry, ignoring the hateful glare coming from Annika, who longed to rush to her husband’s side and tend to his injuries. But she was powerless to do anything. They were in the heart of a madman’s lair who could order them all dead with but a snap of his fingers.

"You may hate me," said Nagan, "but you really should be grateful. I’ve done you a great service by bringing you away from Talax."

"How would that be considered a favor?" said Annika with an accusatory tone.

Nagan heard the defiance in her voice and turned to face the older woman. His face was hard and cruel. "Among the Kazon, a woman does not speak so boldly to a man. It’s not even considered a crime to kill such an impudent woman." He then stormed across the room to close the distance between them. "But because it pleases me, I will tell you. History is about to repeat itself on Talax."

He then waved his hand dramatically, and a viewscreen came to life, showing a sensor map of the surrounding sector. The positions of the Kazon ships, the Talaxian system, even the Haakonian homeworld, were all visible. One particular blip was moving rapidly away from the Kazon fleet and towards Talax.

"The Haakonian ship your Enterprise came here to rescue," explained Nagan. "It speeds on its way to Talax, bearing the identification codes of the Haakonian Foreign Bureau. Your Talaxian friends will not challenge the ship when it arrives at their planet. Isn’t that right, Voxal?"

"Correct, Grand Maje," said Voxal, as he stepped out from behind the Kazon guards. "They wouldn’t dare give offense to a delegation from Haakonia Prime. Not when they are on the verge of interstellar peace. They will escort the Haakonians into orbit, close enough for General Herrek to complete his mission."

"What mission?" said Harry, his raspy voice slowly returning.

"His ship is equipped with a Metreon Cascade generator," said Nagan. "The same weapon that was used against the poor people of Rinax. Only if we’re to incite the Talaxians into a furious rage of retaliation against the Haakonians, we’ll need a target far more…epic…in scale. Like perhaps the four million people in the city of Talax’ul’Rhee?"

Harry and Annika gasped collectively. Talax’ul’Rhee? No, not there, Annika pleaded silently. Not her daughter…

"With the destruction of the Talaxian capital and the People’s Assembly, all of Talax will be furious for revenge," exclaimed Voxal. "Then, I shall emerge, the only minister to survive the slaughter. I will be able to whip the people into a crusade of vengeance against our enemies. The Haakonians, of course, will deny any knowledge of the attack. But their words will fall on deaf ears. The first target of our retaliation will be the Haakonian military colony on Kova’Hwee."

"And your Haakonian co-conspirators are aware of this, knowing it will mean an attack on their own people?" Annika asked incredulously, shocked at the depth to which those who would seek power would sink.

"Aware of it?" Voxal laughed. "My dear Dr. Kim, General Herrek himself provided the security codes for bypassing the colony’s defense grid."

"Once the cycle of violence has begun," concluded Nagan, "then war will be unstoppable. After we’ve allowed the fighting to stretch out for several months, weakening both sides, then the Kazon Union will step in and impose a peace of our own. Talax and Haakonia will become protectorates of the Kazon Union of Sects, and my dominance over the sector will be uncontested. And the best part of it all will be that the people of both worlds will look upon me as their savior."

It was…madness, Harry thought. Cruelty and cunning on a scale that would have shamed even Machiavelli, to so casually send millions of innocents to their deaths, all for the accumulation of power and control. "The Enterprise will stop you," he said defiantly.

"Oh really?" said Nagan with a chuckle. "Then let’s find out, shall we?" He then gestured towards the tactical screen, which showed another single moving blip, this one moving in the direction of the Kazon fleet, apparently unaware of what was lying in wait. "Because your Enterprise is on its way."

"Sir!" Krell called out onto the bridge, "we’ve got contact!"

"Red Alert!" Kalan ordered as he stood at attention. "On screen."

The viewscreen displayed the empty blackness of space streaking by at high speed. Kalan ordered the antiproton scan to be initiated to detect any cloaked ships in the vicinity. The view on the monitor shifted to reveal the three Predators from before, only this time they had deployed nearly fifty Raiders between them. And there was a fourth capital ship, something they hadn’t seen before.

"She measures over 3800 meters long," said Krell. From what my sensors can spot, she’s got at least as much firepower and shield strength as a Sovereign-class. Maybe more."

"The Kazon really have been busy little beavers, haven’t they?" commented Miral.

"The Raiders are spreading out around us in a globe formation," said Krell.

"They’re trying to overwhelm our defenses," observed Kalan. "Keep our phasers busy while they pound away at our shields with torpedoes."

"Heading, sir?" asked Miral, her hands floating through her display. "Do we run the blockade or do we engage?"

Kalan stood at the attention, watching the ghostly images on the screen. If they ran now, he thought, the Kazon would take it as a sign of weakness and would never leave them alone. It was vital that he make a definitive demonstration of strength right here. On the other hand, he had his duty to uphold the mission and to come to the aid of the Talaxians. He had given his word to his captain that he would serve him honorably and not show any disagreement. There was most certainly trouble back on Talax, possibly with the captain in danger, and any delay in fighting here would lead to a dishonorable disgrace later.

And so he chose the only course that suited him. He would do both.

"Maintain heading," he ordered. "Arm torpedoes, and stand by. Lock phasers onto the nearest five Raiders and target them amidships on my mark. As soon as the Predators decloak, fire the torpedoes and disable their engines."

"What about the big one, sir?" asked Naomi.

"The commander of this fleet is undoubtedly on that ship," he said slyly. "I will send a very special message to him."

Naomi looked on with concern. What exactly was their first officer planning? And what exactly would a Klingon consider a ‘special message’?

Ready…" he said, watching the screen and waiting for the right moment. "DaH!" he called out instinctively in Klingonese. Fortunately, the concept translated just fine to Cyrus Krell, as he let loose the barrage of phaser fire, crippling the five nearest Raiders and leaving a gaping hole in the englobement strategy.

"The Predators are decloaking," said Naomi. "They know we can see them."

"Excellent," said Kalan. "It will take them at least twenty seconds before they can fire. Torpedoes away!" Three quantum torpedoes shot off from their launch turret, striking each Predator and weakening their respective shields. Each impact was followed by a sequence of phaser fire to further soften up their shielding. One of the Predators managed to get off a volley of phaser fire at the Enterprise, but her multi-spatial shields were able to absorb the blast.

"We’re hammering them pretty good," Miral exclaimed joyfully.

"That’s what worries me," said Krell. "It’s too easy. It’s usually at this point that the other shoe drops."

From Nagan’s audience chamber, Harry looked on at the monitor with satisfaction. He still lay prone upon the ground, a Kazon guard standing over him with a rifle aimed at him, just to make sure he stayed down. "Your fleet is being beaten, Grand Maje," he taunted. "You haven’t a clue as to what you’re up against."

"On the contrary, Captain," Nagan hissed. "It is your Enterprise that is unaware of what awaits it. I’ve had my ships attack for the sole purpose of gauging the strength of your shielding. And now that I’m aware of its limits…" He then hit a com panel near the wall. "Maje Torall, decloak the Ravager. And fire the isokinetic cannon!"

"Big Momma is decloaking!" Miral called out as she saw the Ravager fade into the visible spectrum.

"Prepare to…" Kalan tried to give an order, but was cut short by Naomi.

"She’s firing!" exclaimed the Ops officer. "Some kind of subspace projectile!"

"But how…?" The executive officer never got a chance to complete his statement as the bridge shook hard against a terrible impact, one much harder than they had expected. Lieutenant Th’oma at the Engineering station nearly flew out of his seat, but he managed to grab hold of his console to steady himself.

"Report!" Kalan called out.

"No hull damage," said Krell, "but our shields have dropped…my god, sixty percent!"

"Sixty?!" Kalan said in bewilderment. "What kind of weapon could these backwater thugs have that would damage our shields so?"

"It was some kind of subspace weapon," said Naomi, as she went over the data on her holographic display and searching for a match. "I…wait. Sir, I think we were hit by an isokinetic cannon!"

"A what?"

"It’s a technology that Voyager encountered during our fourth year in the Delta Quadrant, sir. It’s designed as a shield penetrator. If we’d had ordinary deflectors instead of multi-spatial shielding, we’d be toast by now."

"They’re lining up for another pass," said Krell.

"Then let’s not be such an easy target," said Kalan to the Helm. "Evasive maneuvers. And Mr. Krell," he said, turning to Tactical, "bring the ablative armor generators on line."

"Ready, Commander."

"Ensign Paris," he said to Miral, walking over to the Helm station. "Once you’ve cleared the line of fire, I want you to dive straight into the heart of that monstrosity."

"Dive, sir?" said the pilot in confusion. "What do you have in mind?"

Kalan looked back up at the gigantic Kazon vessel, which was now trying to get a target on them. "I intend to deliver that message, Ensign."

"An isokinetic cannon?" said Annika in disbelief. Voyager had acquired the specifications for such a weapon years ago, but had found it too power consuming to be of any practical use. The Delta Project had hoped to develop the technology further, but transphasic torpedoes were proven to deliver far greater shield-penetrative capability with fewer hardware requirements.

"It cost us much to acquire this weapon," said Nagan proudly, "But it was well worth it. The entire ship was designed around it. We even equipped the cannon with a dedicated capacitance system to make it less vulnerable to the drain from our cloak. Soon, every ship in the Kazon fleet will have an isokinetic cannon of its own. But for now, this one will be more than sufficient to destroy your Enterprise."

Harry was not worried about Enterprise. Nagan had gotten in one lucky shot, that was all. He was far more concerned about Katrina and the millions at risk on Talax. And of course, he was worried for Annika and himself. He looked over at his wife, his brain struggling for a way to save her. His ship was out there, just a million kilometers away. They could easily punch through the Kazon shields and beam them off, if only they knew they were here.

Then he saw Annika’s combadge. He wouldn’t dare reach for his; the guards were watching him way too closely. But they were noticeably less attentive to Annika, probably underestimating her as a woman. Perhaps there was a way he could use Kazon misogyny to his advantage.

He looked up pleadingly at his wife, waiting for her to return his gaze. When she did, she looked into his eyes. She was expecting…she wasn’t sure. Love, anguish, pain, worry…any number of emotions. But Annika Kim was a woman who thrived upon the study of detail. This man to whom she had been married for twenty-three years, she knew him like she knew no other person. She knew his moods, his expressions, and his gestures. When he looked at her a certain way, he didn’t need to speak. His eyes alone could tell her all she needed to know.

So when Harry looked at her and took a quick glance down at her combadge, she knew exactly what he wanted her to do. To the guard standing over Harry, it merely looked like he was stealing a glance at her chest. All he had to do was provide a distraction.

The Enterprise is tougher than you know, Grand Maje," said Harry boldly, his eyes glancing over to the screen. "Look."

Nagan followed Harry’s gaze up to the tactical screen. One corner showed a magnified view of Enterprise, and something was…growing…across her hull. Within seconds, the starship was covered in an extra-dense armored layer.

"Fire the cannon again!" Nagan ordered frantically.

The viewscreen showed another subspace blast impacting against the surface of the ablative armor, only this time the Enterprise shrugged the blast off, continuing onward towards an interception course with the Ravager.

"Impossible!" stammered Nagan. "No starship can stand against my isokinetic cannon!"

"Obviously, you’ve never gone up against a Discovery-class before," said Harry. "She was built to fight the Borg. You and your grand armada are just a swarm of gnats to her."

"A gnat?" said Nagan, as he stormed over before Harry. "Is that some kind of insect? If that’s what I am, then what does that make someone about to be crushed beneath my boot?"

"Grand Maje!" Voxal cried out in terror. "The Enterprise! She…"

"Be quiet, you hairy wretch!"

"But the Enterprise!" Voxal insisted. "She’s going to ram us!"

All was tense on the bridge as the Enterprise bore down upon the Kazon dreadnought. Miral was waving and gesturing her hands through her holographic interface madly, then held in still as the huge ship grew larger in their field of vision. They were just a minute away, and then…

"Sir…" a very nervous Naomi called out from her station.

"Maintain your station, Lieutenant," Kalan grumbled, his eyes riveted forward.

"But sir…I’m getting a signal!" she called out. "It’s on the civilian combadge frequency!"

"Over the intercom?" he demanded. "During a Red Alert?"

"No, Commander," she replied. "From outside. From that ship!" Naomi then opened the link and the message was played over the bridge intercom.

"But the Enterprise!" came Voxal’s voice. "She’s going to ram us!"

"It’s all over now," came the voice of Harry Kim. "They’re never going to let you get away. Not after taking me and my wife…."

"Be silent!" came a third, angry voice. "Torral! Destroy that ship!"

"Lieutenant," said Kalan, turning to the Ops station. "Do you have a fix on the location of that signal?"

"Yes, sir," reported Naomi. "And I’m detecting two human life signs in the vicinity."

"Have the transporter room lock onto them," Kalan ordered, before turning to the helm again. "Ensign, maintain your course."

Miral glanced back puzzled. "You mean we’re still going to…?"

"Maintain your course!" he commanded. "And then prepare full reverse on my mark." He then sat back down in the captain’s chair and hit the com switch on the arm. "Mr. Vorik, are we prepared for the transition?"

Everything is locked into place, Commander. We are ready when you are."

"Twenty seconds to impact," reported Krell. "Nineteen, eighteen…"

At fifteen, Kalan stood and gave the order. "Phase the ship. Now." At with that command, the Enterprise’s phase cloak was engaged.

By the time the cloak sequence had finished initializing, the Enterprise was transitioned out of phase with the rest of the universe. It was not merely invisible, but intangible to normal matter. But the humanoid mind was still not entirely comfortable with the notion of passing through solid objects. So it was with great uneasiness, even a finite moment of terror, that the Enterprise’s crew experienced the quick passage straight through the Ravager, and right out the other side.

Nagan looked up and saw the impossible. The viewscreen saw the Enterprise fill the entire field of view. And then she just…disappeared. And then there was this odd feeling, a queasiness that he couldn’t describe. It lasted for just a brief second before passing, but he felt as if something had just…passed right through him.

It shouldn’t have happened. Even if she had cloaked, she still could not have veered away quickly enough to avoid a collision. They should all be dead. But here they were.

"What just…?" But his question was never completed. To his further disbelief, the entire ship began rocking under the impact of a terrible pounding.

"Grand Maje," came the voice of Torral over the intercom, "Enterprise has reappeared two thousand kah’mares away and is firing upon us. Our shields are down twenty percent and dropping rapidly!"

"Move us about and bring the isokinetic cannon to bear!" Nagan called out. "And where are those Predators?!"

But the tactical screen was showing all too clearly what was happening with the Predators. One vessel had fired a barrage of photon torpedoes at the Enterprise’s ablative hull, dissipating harmlessly. Enterprise returned fire, overloading her already weakened shields. A second Predator came on the scene to lend support, but only received another quantum torpedo for its troubles. The third had already taken too much damage and was drifting lifelessly. Meanwhile, one by one, Raiders were being picked off by phaser fire.

Finally, the first Predator bore down on Enterprise, only to receive a final quantum torpedo delivered through her midsection. The ship crumbled under the impact and her starboard section burst apart in a flash of light and debris. A few more explosions from within blew out sections of the hull, until finally the entire ship burst apart and was destroyed.

Seeing the guard nearest him distracted by the sight of destruction on the viewer, he kicked upward, taking the guard by surprise and knocking the rifle from his grasp. As it tumbled away from him, Harry spun around and scooped it up in a single fluid motion, bashing the Kazon guard in the face with the rifle butt. He saw the other guards near Annika react quickly to Harry’s actions. He knew there was no way he could take them all out with the rifle before one of them hurt his wife. So he did the next best thing and grabbed what was nearest to him. In this case, it was Nagan.

"Let her go!" Harry ordered, as he drew the muzzle of the phaser rifle to Nagan’s temple, "or I add your Grand Maje to his own art collection."

The kazon’ai all had their blades drawn, one guard holding Annika still, pulling her back by her hair, while another had his knife thrust against her jugular. Voxal and Pirix, on the other hand, were cowering in the corner, trying not to be seen. Nagan had a look of complete surprise at the audacity of Harry’s actions. "You dare to do this to me? Do you know who I am? Do you know what I can do?"

"Yes," Harry spat, "I know what you are. You’re a child. For all your power, your cruelty, and your plotting, you’re just a boy."


"Shut up!" Harry shouted. "You’re not in control here anymore." He watched the kazon’ai carefully, as they watched him in return, both sides with a hostage, both at a standoff, while the ship rumbled about them, as Enterprise pounded away. "I’ll tell you this much about your mother, Nagan. When I first knew her, I thought of her as someone who could be my friend. I only learned later that everything she said to us was a pack of lies. I hated her for that at first, but the truth is I gradually forgot about her. I hadn’t really given any thought about Seska in years. And now that I think about her, I can’t bring myself to hate her. All I can do is feel sorry for her."

"You feel sorry for my mother?" said Nagan contemptuously. "Why? Because she died out here in the Delta Quadrant?"

"No. I pity her because of who she was and what she believed in. She was a creature of the old order; a dinosaur who didn’t even know that she and the greater Cardassia she served would soon be gone. We have no use for her and her kind back home anymore. She could have put her past aside and stayed with Voyager. She could have found a place working with us. After all, if a Borg drone could find redemption and love," he said as he gazed upon his wife, who, even at knifepoint returned his smile, "then why not a Cardassian spy? She could have returned to the new Cardassia as a hero. But she made the choice to serve herself first. And that’s what killed her. Your mother was betrayed, Nagan. She betrayed herself."

"No! It’s all lies!" Nagan cried out. "My mother was a hero, a hero to the great Cardassian Empire. It was all in her journals…everything my father told me…he never lied to me."

"What she wrote about me in her journals," said Harry, "it was mostly true. I was naïve and trusting. I did need other people to help bail me out of trouble at times. But the difference between you and me is that I grew up. I became a man. And you? You’re still a little boy who’s crying for a lost mommy he never really knew."

One final blast sent the ship lurching forward, knocking Harry, Nagan, Annika, and the kazon’ai in all directions. Harry made his way over to Annika, putting his arms around her before the guards could recover their weapons. It was then that Harry realized he no longer had the rifle.

It was now in the hands of Nagan, who was pointing it in Harry’s direction, his face twisted into a mask of psychotic rage.

"No one touches me," he said, his entire body trembling. "No one ever touches me…"

"Grand Maje," came Torral’s voice over the intercom. "Our shields are gone!"

Harry smiled at the Kazon leader, just as he felt the familiar tingle of a transporter beam start to envelop him. "Think about what I said, Nagan. And stay away from my people, and our friends." And in a flash of light and sparkles, he and Annika were gone.

Nagan stood there, still holding the rifle, still trembling, pointing at the empty space in the middle of the room.

"He never lied to me," he repeated, quivering as he spoke. "My father never lied to me…"

"Welcome back, Captain," said Kalan, who was there to greet Harry and Annika in Transporter Room One. "Are there any other crewmembers aboard?"

"No, it was just the two of us," said Annika, still unsteady after the impromptu rescue as she stepped off the transporter pad. "Mr. Kalan, we must make best speed to Talax at once. Millions of lives are in danger."


"You heard her, XO," said Harry, straightening his uniform. "Maximum warp to Talax, and pray it’s not too late."

"Aye, sir," he replied. "And what of the Kazon fleet? Shall we finish them off?"

Harry thought about it. Nagan was a dangerous man indeed, and a few quantum torpedoes could finish him off for good right now. But his ship was crippled and no threat to the Enterprise. They were not formally at war with the Kazon, nor did he have any police authority to deal with him. To kill him now, a head of state of a foreign government, would be essentially an assassination. There was no telling what the consequences of such an act might be. Killing Nagan could bring the wrath of the Kazon down on Talax or Haakonia, or alter the politics of the region in ways they could not foresee. Besides, it was not the Starfleet way, and that was not why they were here.

"Leave them be, Commander," said Harry. "They’re already finished. They just don’t know it yet."

Everything was going according to plan, thought General Herrek, as he and his crew brought their ship into low orbit around Talax. The Talaxian military had accepted the diplomatic codes and two gunships were now flying alongside in escort. He had convincingly played the role of diplomatic attaché, enough to keep them fooled for him to do what he came for. Of course, by the time his code and identity were verified, it would all be too late.

"We’ll be over Talax’ul’Rhee in three minutes," Herrek commanded his subordinate. "Bring the Metreon Cascade generator online." The three Kazon officers who had accompanied them were now at the helm, bringing the ship into position, which freed up his Haakonian crew to ready their weapon for firing. He fully expected that he would not survive. If the Cascade didn’t kill him, then the gunships certainly would. It was just as well. If the plan was to succeed, then the Talaxians could never be allowed to find evidence that the destruction of Talax’ul’Rhee was the act of a Kazon conspiracy and not an operation sanctioned by the Ruling Order. In any event, his comrades on Haakonia Prime were ready to act in his absence and seize power once the war was underway.

"Metreon Cascade will be ready to fire in one minute," said his lieutenant.

"Stay on target," Herrek said, eagerly watching the tactical screen, waiting for the capital city to come into view.

"General," reported one of the Kazon, "a ship has just come out of warp near Talax. She’s…she’s dropped straight into orbit! There must be a lunatic flying that ship! They’re bearing down on our position!"

"Ignore it!" Herrek commanded. "Victory is almost at hand."

Harry Kim gripped the arms of his command chair tightly as the Enterprise tore out of warp dangerously close to the planet. Annika was seated to his right, her eyes never leaving the viewscreen ahead. If they were too late, if Talax’ul’Rhee was already lost…

Please, he cried out inwardly, not Katrina…

"We’ve got orbital insertion," Miral stated.

"I’ve got the Haakonian ship!" said Naomi. "She’s in low orbit at an angle of thirty five degrees. Detecting mixed Haakonian and Kazon life signs aboard. She’s…almost directly over Talax’ul’Rhee!"

"I’m detecting an energy signature," said Krell. "The Metreon Cascade is powering up. They’re about to fire!"

"Then let’s beat them to the punch, Mr. Krell," said Harry fiercely. "Forward phasers. Fire!"

And with that command, twin beams of energy lanced out from the huge starship, intersecting at the small courier ship. The smaller vessel’s shields collapsed almost instantly against the onslaught, and the ship along with its deadly cargo was annihilated in a bright flash of energy.

"Status," said Harry, still anxiously awaiting the results.

"We got her before she could deploy the Cascade," said Krell proudly.

Sighs of relief and joy were heard across the bridge. They had saved millions of innocent lives, including several of their colleagues and friends on the surface. And most of all, they had saved the peace.

"Captain," Naomi called over to Harry, "I’m getting hails from all over Talax. They want to know what we just did, blowing up a Haakonian diplomat and screwing up orbital traffic."

Harry chuckled with joy and relief as he reached over and clasped his hand over Annika’s. "Contact the First Chair and the People’s Assembly, Naomi. I think we’ve got a lot to tell them. And make sure that my daughter is safe."

Aboard the Kazon flagship, Grand Maje Nagan sat in his command chair brooding furiously as the cowering new Maje of the Ravager, Jebel, relayed to him the latest intelligence intercepted from Talax and Haakonia Prime.

"There are reports of mass arrests," said Jebel, "General Herrek’s associates as well as Minister Voxal’s. They’ve all been rounded up for questioning."

"Never mind about local politics," Nagan spat. "What of the damage done by Enterprise to our ships?"

"The Blood Tooth and the Red Claw will be out of commission for weeks while we make repairs, Grand Maje," said Jebel. "We lost the Dark Fang and over thirty Raiders. The Ravager’s isokinetic cannon and deflectors should be ready again in another three weeks. I…"

"Three weeks?" fumed Nagan. "I have lost starships vital to my war effort and a political setback in this backwater sector, and that’s all the news you have for me? Get out of my sight!" He contemplated ordering Jebel killed, just because…well, just because. But there would be nothing to gain from it, as he glanced over to his wall of trophies. There sat his newest addition, the head of the Ravager’s former maje, Torral, who had so terribly humiliated him by cowering before the Enterprise and allowing his prisoners to escape.

He looked about the room, seeking the new faces of the six kazon’ai around him. He had to kill his old retinue of guards personally, of course, since they had witnessed his humiliation at the hands of Harry Kim and his insolent woman. Naturally, he could not rule with that knowledge spreading through the Union. His pride would never allow it.

"G-grand Maje?" said a cowering voice from the corner of the room. Voxal. And there beside him was his aide. In the aftermath of Kim’s escape and the unraveling of events at Talax, he had forgotten all about the toady little minister. "I…I request asylum among your people, and promise to serve you loyally."

"We request it," Pirix added in.

"You? You want asylum?" He gazed down at the Talaxians with utter contempt. It was the two of them who had brought Kim here. Voxal was responsible for everything. Of course he was, thought Nagan. His plan had been perfect until everyone else ruined it for him.

"I have been exposed, Grand Maje," pleaded Voxal. "My career is over. I can never return to Talax again."

"Is that so?" said Nagan with a menacing stare, which was then followed by a nod towards the kazon’ai guards, who each drew a long knife and marched in Voxal and Pirix’s direction. "In that case, Voxal, you’re no longer of any use to me." He turned to exit the audience chamber and retreat to his personal meditation sanctum, tuning out the Talaxians’ cries for mercy, which were later followed by their screams of agony as the door slid behind him.

Nagan sat in the peaceful solitude of his personal space, thinking on how everything had gone wrong. Enterprise. She had bested the most feared military in the sector, and had challenged him, the Grand Maje Nagan. Him!

And to think that there were another thirteen of those demonic ships coming here.

He would need more weapons, better weapons, if he were to defeat Enterprise. If these travelers from the far side of the galaxy had a weakness, then he would find it. He would destroy them and dominate the quadrant, as was his destiny. And if he could, he would learn the secret of how they traversed the galaxy, so that he could one day lay claim to his mother’s nation, the great Cardassian Empire, and rule there as well. Then he could avenge those others who had destroyed his mother. There were, after all, many names in his mother’s journals. He would, in time, revisit them all.

But all of that was for another day. He was angry and upset. He wanted to feel good again. He thought to call for one of his concubines, or maybe dispatch another opponent in his private arena. Those things usually cheered him up. But he didn’t care for the company of others right now. He wanted his solitude as well as his pleasure. And so he pulled out his knife, and did what came naturally satisfying to him. Holding out his forearm, he ran the blade against an unscarred section of skin, just deep enough to feel the pain, but not so deep as to make the blood loss excessive. With each new scar, he gained renewed strength, renewed vigor. Feeling the pain, the sweet delicious pain, he knew he was in control of his destiny once again, and that all was right with the universe.

And he would deal with Harry Kim. Not for his mother, but for himself.

Captain’s Log: Stardate 76414.7

After the chaos of the past few days, things finally seem to be settling down. The Talaxian People’s Assembly has voted to allow the construction of Starbase Delta One on the moon Primax and we’ve succeeded in forging a side agreement with the Haakonian Order allowing them to share in the benefits. Our engineers are already in consultation with the their local counterparts on where to break ground. Talaxian and Haakonian engineers working together with the Delta Fleet personnel…all in all, it’s a promising beginning.

As for the upcoming peace summit, I believe that I can participate with a clearer conscience now. It’s the least that I can do for the people of this sector, considering the Federation is inadvertently responsible for unleashing Nagan on the quadrant.

"Don’t you think you’re being a little hard on yourself?" asked Bartok with a smirk, who was sitting quietly in the corner of the captain’s ready room. He had made himself so comfortable that Harry had almost forgotten he was there.

"Not necessarily, Finn," said Harry. "We are responsible. We brought Seska out here. We put her and Cullah together. We might as well have delivered flowers and played romantic music on their first date."

Now that’s an interesting visual," Bartok laughed. "Harry, I’d say the Caretaker was the one who brought Voyager out here, just as it was the Cardassian Central Command who put Seska on Chakotay’s ship. And once she was out here, she made her own decisions. You can’t blame yourself for chance events that are beyond any one man’s control. The only things you have control over are the choices that you make yourself."

"I know," Harry sighed. "I just can’t help but feel that Nagan is someone who’ll be making a lot of trouble for us in the future. He’s dangerous, Finn. You didn’t see him up close the way I did. There was something about him, like he was on the verge of coming apart and taking everyone around him along for the ride."

"I won’t disagree with you there," Bartok said with a serious nod. "I couldn’t say for certain without examining him myself, but from what you described, I’d say Nagan is a genuine sociopath, a very charismatic one if he’s managed to enthrall the Kazon the way he has. People like him are incapable of any real empathy for anyone else. Growing up a Cardassian hybrid in the violent world of the Kazon, it doesn’t surprise me at all. Plus there could be some genuine organic dysfunction. No one has ever seen a Cardassian/Kazon pairing before. The unraveling you saw might have might have a real neurological component to it."

"What do you suggest about the way we handle him?"

"My suggestion?" said Finn. "I suggest we give the Kazon as wide a berth as possible. Nagan isn’t the first delusional sociopath to lead a nation, but they all tend to self-destruct in some manner in the end. And you don’t want to be anywhere around him when that happens."

"Good advice," concurred Harry. "I’ve got no burning desire to be that close to the Grand Maje again in this lifetime."

"So why not just order his ship destroyed when you had the chance?"

"Come on, Finn," said Harry, surprise at even being asked the question. "I don’t have to tell you the answer to that. We just arrived in this part of the galaxy a few days ago. We’re the strangers here. What right do we have to start making decisions by ourselves about who lives and who dies? As soon as we start playing kingmaker and knocking off governments that offend us, then everyone we deal with will start to suspect our motives and think we came here with some kind of agenda for them. Now if Nagan comes after us, I won’t flinch at firing back. But it’s not my place to hunt him down and force him out of power. It’s exactly because we have a starship as powerful as the Enterprise that we have to show restraint in how we use it."

"Well said, Harry," said the counselor with a broad grin. "Maybe you should put that into your log. I think you answered some of your own doubts."

The door chimed and Harry gave permission for it to open. Commander Kalan entered the room. "Captain," he greeted Kim with a respectful nod. "I am here to give my report of the incident with the Kazon."

"I think this is my cue to leave," said Bartok as he got up from the couch and departed.

"Commander," said Harry. "I’ve gone over your preliminary logs. I’ve been reading with great interest about what happened while I was away."

"Yes, sir," said Kalan. "Before you continue, I would like to speak freely."

"If you feel you must," he replied with a gesture for him to sit.

"Sir," said Kalan stiffly, remaining standing. "I realize that my approach may be viewed as aggressive by the standards of Starfleet Command. If that is the case, then so be it. We are far from the Federation, and there are those with whom we must, on occasion, deal harshly. But as I have told you before, I will not deviate from the mission set before us, nor will I be disloyal to you. And I will not show mercy to those who would do harm to this vessel or its crew."

"Very well," said Harry, showing bemusement. "Now, if I may be allow to say what I was going to say. I wanted to tell you, Commander…that you did a fine job."


"I think that in this case, you displayed the proper degree of force, and showed restraint where it was needed. You evaluated the enemy properly, Commander. Considering what the Kazon have become, a demonstration of this ship’s might was necessary and proper."

"Several of your crew might not agree with that," said Kalan.

"If you mean Lieutenant Wildman, don’t be too hard on her. She’s young and still growing into the job. She’s good at what she does. She just needs a bit more seasoning about the realities of life on the frontier. If I have a soft spot for her, it’s because I remember what it was like to be a young Operations Manager here in the Delta Quadrant. I learned, and so will she."

"And what of Ensign Paris?" asked Kalan, with an arch of his eye.

"She also needs some seasoning," said Harry equally slyly. "Her, I leave to your tender mercies, Commander. Just to show I don’t play favorites."

The two didn’t laugh. They didn’t even really smile. But Harry Kim knew at that moment that Kalan, Son of Kritus, was a man he could trust with his ship and those aboard it, including his family. And that was enough.

Katrina Kim stepped onto the turbolift on her way to the Galleria, still trying to be okay with the fact that she had apparently came close to being annihilated the other day. She wondered if this was what life was going to be like in the Delta Quadrant for her. At least it wouldn’t be boring.

"Jolan Tru, Ms. Kim," came a voice from beside her. She realized that she had gotten onto the same turbolift with Dr. Saldeed.

"Oh hello, Doctor," said Katrina hesitantly, not sure how she felt being with the Romulan woman after the other day.

After letting a few uncomfortable moments pass, Saldeed spoke again. "Listen, you’re not going to hear this from me very often, so you might as well listen up now while you can. I…apologize. I was a bit snippy the other day. It seemed that my ‘ruling passion’ was ruling me that afternoon. In any event, I was, as humans like to say, out of line."

"It’s…it’s okay. I guess I was being a bit of a pain," said Katrina.

"Well, let’s just say we both could use some work on our personal skills," said Saldeed, offering a twisted smile of her own. "I heard about Talax’ul’Rhee. How are you feeling?"

"Oh, not too bad," said Katrina wryly, "considering I came close to being vaporized. At least the Kazon didn’t kidnap me though, so I have that much going for me. Boys should be a breeze compared to that."

"That’s rather cynical of you," chuckled Saldeed. "Frankly, I think it suits you. It will make men believe you’re a deep thinker. Is that where you’re headed?"

"To meet a guy? No way!" said Katrina, a bit too quickly. "I…I’m meeting my mom for lunch. I guess after what happened she’s feeling all maternal and stuff."

"Well, that’s to be expected. Just remember, no matter how difficult you may find things to be, you should always show the proper mnhei’sahe, when you speak with her, as any true Romulan should."

"Who said I was a true Romulan?" asked Katrina slyly. "And what is…mene…menesay…?"

"Mnhei’sahe," Saldeed corrected her. "Maybe after school I can explain the concept to you. Just for a few minutes, mind you."

"Oh, of course."

"After all, I’m very busy," said Saldeed. "I can’t be seen wasting my time teaching a girl things about Romulans that she could easily be researching on her own time."

"I understand," said Katrina playfully. "I mean…I’m not sure if I want to be Romulan or human or not. I just want to be me, you know? I just want to see what’s out there."

"Isn’t that what this mission is about?" said the doctor as she stepped off the lift. "After all, there are always…possibilities."


Category : Delta Fleet

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